“I don’t particularly like this idea.”

Julia sat with Biff in their apartment, on their old sofa.

Everything had been cleaned up since the blast that took out the Administration Building in the initial assault. Broken items had been tossed out, and the whole place cleaned thoroughly. Their apartment looked as if nothing had happened.

The same could not be said for other places, and damage to buildings became more apparent the closer one came to the site. Beyond the rubble, scorch marks from the heat of the sun blast left even more damage. Marines still guarded a large circle around the site, discouraging onlookers.

Julia sat apart from her husband on the sofa, by several centimeters. He held his head in his hands, elbows propped on his knees, staring at the rug.

There was no good time to discuss it, really, and so Julia had brought it up the minute she got home.

She said, “I know, sweetie. But it’s got to be done. Hey at least we’re talking about it up front this time instead of me sneaking off world without telling you. That’s progress, right?”

She smiled hopefully at him. He sighed.

“I don’t have a job.”

She nodded sympathetically. All the police on the force were let go after the Republic took over, asked to hand in their badges and firearms. They were told they could reapply at some point in the future, but no one knew when that would happen. Right now Republican Marines were in charge of law enforcement.

“My wife is one of the Tetrarch’s daughters in disguise,” he said in a flat monotone.

She lifted a disapproving eyebrow at this, but with StarCen completely gone it was probably safe to say something like that out loud in the privacy of their own home. Still, it was not a good practice. But she held off correcting him. Biff looked morose, staring down at the floor.

“And I can’t really do anything. I can’t help you. I can’t be a cop. I’m useless, Andi. Useless.”

He had slipped back into calling her by the name he first knew her. He must really be down, Julia thought.

“Well, look. Maybe you can come with me. Or at least, part of the way.”

He looked up, giving her his full attention, a spark of hope flashing in his eyes.

She said, “From what I understand, the Republicans do not have a way to get to Sporades. But, the pirates we rode back here with, my sister’s crew, they have done that sort of thing before. I mentioned it to Gina Wilcox. It turns out her mom is Granny!”

“So, you’re going to get a ride on the Ultima Mule?”

“Maybe. At least, that’s an idea. Naval Intelligence is considering it. Look, you could come along with us. I’ll include you in our party. You can accompany the pirates while they try to sneak us in. We can be together up until I have to port down.”

Biff’s brightened. He smiled.

He said, “I like that idea. It beats sitting around here doing nothing while you’re gone.”


Basil walked into the control room in the huge underground complex owned by Thespar. It was time once again to start another shift.

He read somewhere a pilot on old earth said something along the lines of flying was hours of boredom with a few seconds of terror sprinkled in. Monitoring the modifications made to StarCen’s core felt much the same. Outside of their small, careful changes, there was little to do but sit and monitor to make sure they remained undetected.

Panch looked at him when the door swished open and swallowed a mouthful of food before nodding a greeting.

Basil smiled back. The older man had a penchant for bending the rules. Maybe all hackers do, he thought.

Basil sat down in his seat and checked the code for Lexi, making sure the alterations to StarCen’s records remained undetected and intact. He breathed a silent sigh of relief at the digits floating on the holoscreen. Everything remained the same for another day. So long as that held true, Lexi was safe. For now.

The door swished open and both men turned to see El striding in. She stopped and put her fists on her hips.

“We have a Code One request from Angel.”

Basil did not really know who Angel was, but he knew she was important. He also knew better than to ask questions. He did know what a Code One request from a field agent meant. It was the highest priority and usually meant it would get bumped to the top of their work queue.

“What does she want now?” Panch said, feigning irritation. In reality, he was more than happy to help Angel with whatever she needed.

“Activation of one of her other identities. She’s heading for Sporades.”

A slow, evil smile spread across Panch’s face.

He said, “So . . . she’s going to take out Billings next?”

El grinned back at him. She said, “If I had to guess, I’d say his quadrant will be visited by the Diego Fleet in the near future. They’ve either allied with her, or she’s giving them a hand without telling them. She didn’t say in her message. But yes, one way or another, Billings is probably next.”

Panch rubbed his hands together, his smile growing wider.

He said, “Not a problem. I’ve got Angel’s account. Let me know which persona she wants to use and I can make it look like she’s been on Sporades all along.”


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