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Julius Thrall sat at his desk at home. Besides Raquel, the isolated estate had no other humans in at least an 18 kilometer radius. Any attempt to approach the mansion, by land, sea or air would be duly noted by the new security upgrades he had ordered. All the bots had also been upgraded with the ugly improved models that were more impervious to explosions.

Millions of credits had been spent to provide Thrall with this remote, secure compound. As far as he was concerned, it was worth every proverbial penny. Not that he had paid for any of it with his own funds. Rank hath its privileges, and he held the highest rank of them all. Millions of taxpayers in the Clarion quadrant had contributed.

Despite the opulence and luxuriousness of his private residence, Thrall felt . . . dissatisfied. The Republic had a profoundly effective new type of ship, the Condor-class. Although the first one suffered some difficulties at Seychar, it was no doubt repaired by now and leading a fleet of other ships somewhere. They would likely try to wrest away a capital planet, one of the four. It would mark a devastating blow in the war, and tip the scales solidly to PLAIR’s side for the first time.

StarCen was convinced the Diego Fleet was heading to Juventas, and Thrall agreed. Juventas made the most sense. He had diverted half of Cooper’s fleet to Kwan’s in their failed attempt to take Gotha Mu. An attempt, he grumbled to himself, that would have worked if the Republic’s war engineers had not developed that dreadful star weapon.

They would have to revise the rules of warfare when this was over, he thought. It is difficult to do when the cat is out of the bag, but there was precedence. The nations outlawed gas warfare after World War I. The AI systems prohibited nuclear torpedoes, too.

He grimaced at the thought. Sun bombs were a brilliant workaround to the nuclear prohibitions. He wished he had thought of it first.

Now he desperately hoped their answer to the weapon, the solar torpedoes, would make it to Juventas on time. If the Republic got there first, or if the Diego Fleet attacked elsewhere . . . but no, such things were not worth fretting over.

Thrall could only influence those things over which he had control. He had no control over where the Diego Fleet would show up. He could only take the best steps he could with the knowledge he had at the moment. Anything else was beyond him, and he would refuse to lose sleep over it.

He found himself missing Elven. The Naval Attaché had been exceptionally proficient, even more so than the previous one. He had indeed been attracted to her, and he knew there had been some mutual feelings there due to some comments he overheard.

But when Raquel returned she squashed any budding relationship they might develop. Thrall had sent Elven off with a promotion to Commander. And there certainly were plenty of vacancies needing to be filled with all the losses at Seychar.

Mandy Elven was of better use to the League serving as XO on a ship somewhere instead of providing him eye candy here at the estate. Raquel took care of that role, and more. And StarCen acted as his virtual receptionist.

As if thinking about her could summon her, a high-pitched voice came down from the ceiling.

“Tetrarch Thrall, you have a call incoming from Marshal Metger on Epsilon.”

“Good. Put him through.”

Metger’s hologram appeared, seated in front of Thrall.

“I’ve been waiting to hear from you, Marshal. What can you tell me about my daughter?”

“Sorry. It has taken me this long to get off Lute and find a ship home from Petra Roe.

“So, as for your daughter, Jillian. She’s married. To a pirate captain, if that matters. Either way, even declared incompetent by the courts, he is her next of kin now and he has no intention of giving up custody.”

Thrall showed very little outward emotion. His nostrils flared, little else. Metger did not notice.

Thrall said, “StarCen, confirm.”

“Marshal Metger is correct, Tetrarch Thrall. I am seeing a marriage certificate for Jillian Thrall with Christopher Raleigh. The ceremony was performed on Lute and PLAIR has recorded it in her public records.”

“Sorry I couldn’t get word to you sooner,” Metger said. “But you know how it goes. I had a lot of trouble on Lute. We’re probably going to have to do something about them, once this war is over. In fact, my office will be contacting you in regards to a fine they had to pay in order to get me off the planet.”

“I see. Have them take it up with my office in Clarion. Thank you for your efforts, Marshal.”

“Absolutely. If we can be of service in the future, you know how to find us.”

The call ended and Metger’s hologram blinked away.

When Thrall was alone once more, he let the anger surge. His face grew red and he pounded the desk.

“That girl! Marrying a . . . a pirate!”

The audacity of it all, he thought. Never mind this was a brilliant ploy . . . perhaps the only feasible move to defeat his legal efforts to bring her home. It was checkmate, at least as far as the courts and working through the AIs were concerned.

He might try a military move again, or subterfuge with SSI, although both efforts would probably prove useless. And right now, with the war going the way it was, he did not have a lot of resources to spare for a rebellious daughter hiding out in a distant outpost.

He calmed down, taking deep breaths and letting them out slowly. The outburst of anger, such as it was, only lasted a minute. Thrall held his emotions in check, even in private.

Starcen said, “Tetrarch Thrall, you have another call from Epsilon. This is from SSI Director Munk.”

“Put him through.”

Edgar Munk’s hologram appeared, his smiling face and gray hair making him look more like a distinguished diplomat than a spymaster.

“Julius! How are you?”

He was one of the few people in the galaxy who could get away with calling Thrall by his first name.

Thrall grunted, noncommittally.

Munk continued, ignoring the pissed off look on Thrall’s face.

“We’ve had some recent drama, nothing you need to concern yourself with. It turns out some college kids held some quaint notions of rebellion. The reason I’m calling you is, I have decided to continue some of our experiments with the biocollars on these students.”

He stepped back and let a holoscreen open between them. Thrall looked at a dozen young people, all wearing underwear and nothing else. They stood relaxed, with biocollars around their necks.

“Our last batch from Fomalhaut went very well, before they were intercepted by pirates. The difference with these are, we have kids from prominent families this time. High wealth and education. It’s a different social strata than a small outpost, you know?”

Thrall’s eyes settled on one girl to the right. She was . . . beautiful. He could see the intelligence behind her eyes, even with the biocollar controlling things.

“Tell me about the blonde,” he said.

Munk looked for the one he referred to, and smiled. He said, “Ah. Caroline. Yes, she’s not a natural blonde, I’m afraid. Still, quite attractive.”

Munk knew Thrall’s tastes, and was not surprised the Tetrarch would ask about her.

He said, “We are doing some more tests, and we will have to make some modifications to the public record . . .”

“I will come there. I need to make a trip to Epsilon anyway.”

“Very well. I’ll have her ready for you.”

Thrall sat back in his chair, the connection broken. Yes, this was just the ticket, he thought. Somebody new.

It was not that he had lost his affection for Raquel. He just . . . craved someone else. Someone fresh.

“StarCen.”

“Yes, Tetrarch Thrall?”

“Arrange passage for me on the next flight to Epsilon. Preferably Naval.”

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jaxonreed

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