Thrall stood in a control room next to Munk and one of his scientists. They watched a holo showing the interior of Caroline’s cell. The young blonde girl walked in circles, arms firmly crossed over her breasts and staring down at the floor, clearly agitated.

The scientist, wearing a proverbial white lab coat, said, “I don’t understand it. This has not happened with any of the other subjects. In fact, I can’t remember hearing about it happening with any indentured servant. Ever.”

Thrall and Munk exchanged a glance. They had not filled in the SSI scientist with all the details surrounding the encounter between Raquel and Caroline. Thrall indicated that knowledge should be on a “need to know basis,” and Munk agreed with him. Consequently, the scientist had been left in the dark surrounding the “how” and “why” regarding the sudden malfunction of Caroline’s biocollar.

Thrall had StarCen port both himself and Caroline back to Facility 16 after Raquel left. A very confused and upset Caroline was reinterred in her cell, and Thrall and Munk tried to figure out what happened before calling in the scientist to check things over. The scientist confirmed Caroline was in complete control of her mental faculties once more.

“Regardless of whether it has happened before or not, I think it’s obvious her collar malfunctioned somehow, and holds no more . . . influence over her,” Munk said.

“Yeah but how?” the scientist said. “It makes no sense. Biocollars don’t just malfunction like that. I’m telling you, I’ve never seen this before. I’ve never heard of it happening before, either.”

“Never mind that. Thank you for your time on this matter. I remind you StarCen will be monitoring your speech, and you are not to mention this to anyone.”

The scientist nodded, his face paling a bit. Clearly he wanted to discuss it more, with somebody. Anybody. And the implied threat had been delivered about what would happen if he did discuss it.

He excused himself from the room. As the door swished shut behind him, the two older men stared back at the holo as Caroline paced the floor of her holding area. They watched her in silence for a long while.

“I’ll have her eliminated,” Munk finally said.

“No. Don’t bother. Give your people enough time and maybe they can figure out a way to reactivate the biocollar or something.”

“We’ll have to put a new one on her if we want to try again.”

“Maybe do that. But don’t take her out just yet.”

Munk smiled at the Tetrarch and said, “You’re getting soft in your old age, Julius.”

“Maybe,” Thrall said, returning the smile. “Or maybe I’m still interested in this one.”

“Hm.” Munk raised his eyebrows doubtfully. “And Raquel?”

“Raquel will behave and come home, eventually. Let her vent for now. I strongly suspect she has not been entirely faithful, herself.”

This was rather dangerous ground. Munk had accompanied Thrall to Raton Five some time ago, and was with him when he took Raquel out of the facility in which she had undergone experiments along with others.

Munk knew that Raquel had likely been the one responsible for Raton Five’s destruction, and the deaths of several people in that remote facility.

But Thrall had taken a fancy to her. She was his type, and he kept her as a mistress and . . . almost a full partner in some ways.

Their personalities matched, in many respects. And both grew restless, boring easily with routine. Munk suspected Thrall had grown bored with Raquel after she returned from her last outing, thus leading to the current predicament with Caroline.

Before Munk could think of an appropriate response, StarCen’s high-pitched voice came down from the ceiling.

“Tetrarch Thrall, the Diego Fleet just attacked Juventas. Admiral Cooper is gone, along with all my cores and nodes on the planet. I have had to cede the entire quadrant to PLAIR for now. What’s left of the Sixth Fleet has been evacuated.”

Dozens of questions raced through Thrall’s mind. The news was stunning, but he forced himself to think. He tried to sort his questions into their order of importance.

“How many ships are left?”


He grimaced at the low number.

“Have the other three planets in the quadrant been taken?”

“Not yet, but the likelihood of their imminent loss is high. I am writing them off as of now.”

“Are there additional resources on those planets, or anywhere in the area, that we can bring to bear against the Diego Fleet?”

“No. They brought three Condors. One of our solar torpedoes took out one of their Condors. Your secret weapon, the Tilson, took out an additional thirteen, but only dealt minor damage to another Condor. Despite the losses we inflicted, they remain an overwhelming force at the moment.”

Thrall stopped to think. Finally, he looked back at Munk.

“I’m going to be staying here on Epsilon for a while, Edgar. Perhaps a long while. This changes the dynamics of the war, at least for the moment.”

Munk nodded and said, “We’ll do whatever we can for you, Julius. Let us know what you need.”

Thrall stared at the holo showing the visibly upset Caroline, still pacing her cell.

“Keep her here, and don’t harm her. No one is to touch her, in any way.”

Munk nodded, acknowledging Thrall’s order.

Thrall said, “StarCen, take me to the Epsilon Administration Building.”

He left the control room and walked out to the large open area. A holographic yellow circle appeared around him and he popped away.

Munk watched him go from the security holo, then returned his attention to the bleach blonde, now completely operating on her own will with the inactive biocollar.

“Well,” he said to himself toward the now departed Thrall, “we can’t always get what we want, can we Julius? The same holds true whether we’re talking about women or war.”


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