“This is just phenomenal. I can’t say how happy I am to see you, Marshal. I think this will make a great holo. ‘Rescue from Lute.’ Or maybe, ‘Saving Niles Sergio.’ Yeah, I kinda like that. I wonder if I should star as myself? We’ll probably have an artificial actor do most of the action, you know they just look better. And they don’t get hurt when doing stunts! I’ll have one made of myself. You, too, no doubt. I’m sure we can make the Marshal’s Service look really, really good. And this will help the war effort! Heck, it’ll help recruiting efforts for your agency. I’m sure it’ll help your dating life. You’re going to have to beat the girls off with a stick after this holo comes out. Or, whatever preference you have, I don’t judge. Myself, I prefer young girls. The younger the better. You know, it’s been a long, long time for me. Did you know pirate women are kinda hot? Unfortunately they won’t even give me the time of day. I guess it’s because I’m a captive. There’s probably some rules about sleeping with the enemy, you know? Anyway, when I get back I’m going to make you a star. You’ll see!”

Metger tuned out Sergio’s incessant chatter. The man was annoying, no doubt, and his tendency to talk nonstop played a huge role in that annoyance. But Metger had more important things to consider.

The motto of the Marshal’s Service was “Force if necessary.” The implied threat underlying the motto usually worked in the Marshals’ favor. People, organizations, even governments typically complied with the agency’s demands in order to avoid their use of force.

The Texas Rangers used to have a saying: “One riot, one ranger.” The implication was that a solitary law enforcement officer of that organization’s caliber could handle any number of situations, including a large-scale riot.

The Marshal’s Service operated from a similar perspective. Early in the colonization of space, when it became apparent that dueling modes of government would prevail on the settled planets, an independent law enforcement agency was founded that could operate between both systems. The idea was loosely based on American federal agencies. While the Texas Rangers became that state’s investigative arm, the Federal Bureau of Investigation served as the national version. Federal agencies could freely operate in every state, and superseded local ones.

It was not a perfect analogy, primarily since the planets were not states that were united. They were more like separate countries comprised of different planets. It took some treaties to be signed by the systems, but eventually both sides could see the benefit of having one law enforcement agency that could act as a neutral third party. If a fugitive from one system found his or her way to the other, the Marshals would track the person down and bring them back to justice.

While lip service was freely given, local governments on some planets proved more reluctant when it came to compliance. Thus was born the Marshals’ reputation for ruthlessness. Many years ago, a Marshal killed 72 people in one day while extracting a Republican fugitive off Epsilon. The death toll included19 local police who unwisely tried to intervene. Another Marshal killed over 50 people on Diego in a similar episode while capturing a League fugitive.

Over time, law enforcement agencies were instructed by their respective governments to fully cooperate with the Marshal’s Service rather than obstruct them in any way. Even more important, Metger thought, the AI systems were programmed to remain compliant. That made all the difference.

Even on this backwater planet, which likely had only the one decent city, its AI would be aligned with PLAIR. Metger had no concerns about her. In the end, as always, the assignment would be completed. He would return Ms. Thrall to her—

The door to Raleigh’s office swished open, interrupting Metger’s thoughts and Sergio’s babbling. Raleigh walked in, smiling.

“I have some good news, Marshal. Well, good for me and Jillian, not so good for you, I suppose. We are married. She is now Jillian Raleigh, and I am her husband and next of kin. That being the case, I am afraid I cannot let you take her. And, if you try to do so by force, you’ll be in violation of the law.”

The two men stared at him. Metger glared while Niles looked dumbfounded.

Niles said, “You married the Tetrarch’s daughter?”

Metger said, “LuteNet, confirm.”

“This information is correct, Marshal Metger. Christopher Raleigh and Jillian Thrall are legally wed, and the records have been updated here as well as with PLAIR. I am rescinding my permission for you to port her off planet in your custody.”

Niles looked between the two men staring at one another, the Captain smiling and the Marshal frowning.

“What’s the big deal?” Niles said. “You can still grab her and we can go, right? I’m mean, you’re charged with taking her back, right? This shouldn’t make any difference.”

Metger grunted. He said, “It’s not that easy. The Captain here is now her next of kin since he’s her husband. It throws a whole monkey wrench in the thing. This is a dirty trick, Raleigh. We call that a ‘marriage of convenience’ where I’m from. It’s a legal loophole. You wouldn’t have been able to do this back in the League. Or the Republic, I bet.”

Raleigh shrugged. He said, “I was going to marry her anyway. You just forced my hand and sped things up. Anyway, now that your reason for coming here has been negated, let’s discuss damages to my building.”

Metger sniffed and looked away. He said, “Take up any claims you might have with the main office of the Marshal’s Service. But good luck with that. Everything was in the line of duty. And it was in the line of duty, at the time. Your marrying her doesn’t change that. She wasn’t married when I first came here.

“And for the record, I’m taking young Sergio, being held against his will, back with me. I’ll consider that a partial victory.”

He stood and walked to the open area in the office, beckoning Niles to follow.

“Port us to the Disembarkation Zone, LuteNet.”

A yellow circle appeared around them, and they popped away.


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