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Isolde's Initiative -- Serialization of Novel by J.A. Taylor -- Installment Four

Updated on August 24, 2015

The "Aurora Deal" = A Rescue on the Way

Chapter 4

Although Damon tempted fate stepping between Corey and the Deltan assassins on Uvalde-Minor, he is caught off-guard when Corey, without proof, accuses him of being complicit in the abduction of Cassia. Corey is so sure of his suspicions and places his accusations before his older brother, Owen. Damon provides logical answers to their probing questions, and fair-minded Owen acquits Damon of the baseless charges, much to Corey's disappointment.

As the brothers turn their thoughts toward rescuing Cassia, Damon seizes the opportunity to offer his services once again; this time, it will not be free. A "deal" is struck with Owen, and Corey is immediately up in arms, claiming it as blackmail. Damon issues one stipulation--Corey must accompany him--Corey bluntly refuses to go. When Damon decides to back out of the deal for that reason, Owen placates Damon's concerns by offering the services of Alec and Ida, his android assistants.

Eventually for Cassia's sake, Corey shelves his animosity toward Damon and joins him on his journey to Delta-Linus.

On Baldaninus, Morgan and Quillar wait for his militia cutthroats to report that their assignments are completed. Bad news arrives in bits and pieces. Quillar's competency is questioned by Morgan, and they have their first quarrel.

Chapter Four

Seated behind the Paldaarean in the Shooting Star, Damon watched the pinpoints of lights turn to shimmering streaks as the ship jumped to hyperspace, leaving Uvalde-Minor and trouble far behind them. Any further communication between him and the Paldaarean ended when they settled into the cockpit of the ship. Damon surmised that the young man’s thoughts were on the uncertain fate of his sister.

For the first time in over a year, Damon was in the cockpit of a fighter, but never in his wildest dream, did he expect he would be in a strange ship with a distraught Paldaarean.

The only thing that bothered the Deltan was the silence. Just when he thought the verbal famine was over, this incident with the militia had to happen.

“You know, this is my first time in a Shooting Star,” Damon said looking at the instrumentation around him.

Silence.

“Of course, I’ve always been in the pilot’s seat,” Damon said, “always flown alone.”

Still, silence.

“So, how long have you been flying? I don’t suppose you’ve ever been in combat, you being a Paldaarean and all.” Damon glanced about his small space.

Corey’s head moved from side-to-side as he worked at his navi-comm.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Damon said, “anyway, you put up a good fight back there on Uvalde being out-numbered and all. Next time, I reckon they’ll have second thoughts before taking you on again.”

“Why?” Corey asked.

He spoke, Damon thought with surprise. “Why what?”

“Why were you there?”

“Where?”

“There…in the spaceport?” Corey said.

“Well, I was out in the marketplace when I saw you and your sister go by…and those Deltans following you. My curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to follow them at a discreet distance, mind you.”

“Couldn’t you have stopped them?”

“From taking your sister?” Damon finished. “Tell you the truth, I wasn’t that sure they were after you until I entered the port. That’s when I heard her scream. By the time I got to where you were, it was just you and those Deltans. I’ve got this thing about bullies and lopsided fights.”

“I counted four dead Deltans back there,” Corey said.

“Caught them by surprise,” Damon replied. “They weren’t expecting me.”

“You were talking to one of them as I came to.”

“Yeah, I was asking about your sister,” Damon replied.

“So where?”

“Delta-Linus…said something about Quillar’s order.”

“Quillar! I’ll kill him!”

“Forget that notion, friend,” Damon said. “Your chances of getting her back are remote to say the least.”

“My brother, Owen, and I will do what it takes to get Cassia back,” the Paldaarean said.

Cassia. She’s as pretty as her name, Damon thought. Why did the Militia target this Paldaarean, and kidnap his sister? Who are these people, anyway? This wasn’t a simple training exercise. “Would you know why Quillar sent this murder squad after you?”

“No,” Corey answered shortly.

From that point on, the line of communication between them was broken again. It was apparent the young man was in emotional turmoil. Might as well settle back. Give him time to unravel his thoughts. Damon continued watching the stars streak by.

The steady switching and clicking of instrumentation and the vibration from the thrusters speeding them through hyperspace were like a sweet symphony to Damon’s ears. Soon, he nodded off, only to have his rest disturbed by Corey breaking the silence.

“Paldaar, this is Commander Isolde,” he said into his ship’s telecom.

Damon rubbed the sleep from his eyes, thinking the Paldaarean was addressing him. Instead, the conversation was a communication with his home world of Paldaar.

“Paldaar here, sir,” a reply came promptly.

“I’m approaching on Vector two-two-one, heading six-five. Patch me through to Arriaad.”

Isolde, eh? Damon gave it his full attention.

Another voice came over the telecom. “Arriaad here, Commander. We’ve been concerned. Did you get the news about Lord Eidell?”

“Yes, the news reached us three days ago. Has my brother been notified?” Corey said.

“He knows. He arrived two days ago. He’s been worried about you and Cassia. He’ll be glad to know you’re safe. When can we expect you?”

“Five point four-eight hours,” Corey replied. “Something has happened. Code grey-alpha-red. Isolde, out.”

“Affirmative, Commander,” Arriaad replied, “I’ll notify him immediately. Arriaad, out.”

As Corey switched off the telecom, Damon leaned forward. “Isolde, eh? The name carries a lot of weight out in the galaxy. Any relation to the Chief Consul?”

“What’s it to you?” Corey snapped.

“Just wondering.” Damon sat back.

“He’s my father,” Corey said with a hint of sadness.

“And this news about your father…good or bad?”

“He was on his way to Alpha-Bynaurus. His ship never arrived. He’s been declared lost.”

“That’s bad,” Damon said.

“Yeah,” Corey replied, “we know now who’s responsible.”

“Mind my asking about this code grey-alpha-red?” Damon asked.

“Yes,” Corey answered.

Once again, the Paldaarean was silent and Damon sensed a deliberate evasion. The ship banked starboard on its final approach vector to Paldaar. Damon settled back into his seat with fleeting uneasiness. Maybe I should’ve stayed on Uvalde with the Vrende. They were, at least, less secretive and more willing to communicate.

In the back of his mind, Damon knew something was in the offing, feeling like a torna wasp trapped in a glass jar with the lid screwed down to prevent his escape. Whatever anxiety was growing inside him, he would keep it under control. Once his feet were back on the ground, he would arrange passage with the first freighter leaving Paldaar for the outer region. For where? Oh, yeah, Gregonia. A partnership with Zeno sounds good right now. I have a feeling things are going to heat up now. If Quillar had anything to do with the Chief Consul’s disappearance, it’s going to get downright hot in this sector. Better not to press my luck with this Paldaarean. He’s probably be out for blood…and I’d rather it not be mine.

j

As the Shooting Star encountered the outer atmosphere of Paldaar, Isolde engaged the braking thrusters gradually decreasing the angle of their descent. For nearly three minutes, the ship trembled as they left the star-studded blackness of space and entered the azure canopy over Paldaar. Thirty miles below, snow-capped mountains with cloud-shrouded valleys rose up to greet them. They leveled off at an altitude of five miles, passing through a thin, delicate wisp of forest mist that presented the illusion of underwater cities.

It was only as the ship skimmed the surface of a large inland body of water on approach to the capital city of Riel, that the actual speed of the Shooting Star began to slow. As they neared the spaceport, the thrusters reversed, bringing the ship to a hovering standstill onto a landing platform that lowered Shooting Star through the docking portal to its assigned berth.

General Arriaad and two soldiers waited, standing clear of the steam venting from the Shooting Star’s engines. While Corey shut the ship’s systems down one by one and the cockpit depressurized, Corey waved at the General. The General reciprocated with a smile and the facsimile of a casual salute. Nothing to worry about, it seems, Damon thought as his apprehension waned.

By the time the canopy slid back, Corey had removed his helmet. He made a hasty exit from the cockpit, sliding down the boarding plane with his feet outside the rungs. Damon removed his helmet and followed him.

“Welcome back home, Commander,” Arriaad said as the tall, dark-haired stranger descended the ladder. “Where’s Cassia…and who is this?”

“He says his name is Damon Gyles,” Corey answered as he drew his disrupter and nodded to the other soldiers.

Damon bounded to the floor, his smile faded when greeted by three disrupters pointing directly at him. Oh yeah…nothing to worry about, he thought as he raised his hands in surrender and Corey snatched his weapon from his holster. “Hey, what’s going on here?” Damon asked. “I’m a friend, Commander, don’t you remember?”

“You say you’re a friend. But, until I’m sure you had nothing to do with Cass’s abduction…”

The general’s eyes widened in surprise and turned to Corey.

“I told you I wasn’t with them!” Damon exclaimed.

“Then, how is it you were so conveniently there?” Corey asked.

“It was hardly convenient.” Damon glanced from Isolde to Arriaad. “In fact, I went out of my way.” Suddenly, restraints locked Damon’s arms behind his back. “Hey! Is this Paldaarean gratitude for saving one’s life?”

Corey turned to the general. “Where’s Owen?”

“He’s onboard Aurora, waiting for you.” Arriaad eyebrows rose. “Commander…was your life in jeopardy?”

“Jeopardy? General, he was so close to death, you could smell it on him,” Damon said. “I had to take out four Deltans in the process.”

Arriaad’s eyes widened in surprise. “Is this true? “

“Yes, but he knows more than he’s telling,” Corey answered, as he holstered his weapon. “Quillar has taken Cassia…and I want to know where and why.” After receiving Damon’s disrupter from one of the soldiers, Corey took hold of Damon’s arm and began to lead him away. “That will be all. I’ll take it from here.”

As the soldiers backed off, Damon turned again to the Arriaad. “General, you look like a reasonable man. I can understand Isolde’s situation, but I had nothing to do with it except to intervene on his behalf. Is that a crime? I’ve always thought when someone does you favor, you don’t slap him in irons. If he has questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them.” Damon stopped in his tracks and shook off Corey’s grasp. “The commander’s thinking with his heart, not his head, sir!”

Arriaad paused a moment in thought, then with a nod, he stepped behind Damon and began removing the restraints.

“General, what are you doing?”

“Like it or not, Commander,” Arriaad said, “I still outrank you at this moment. Your father would not approve of this action. Until you have solid proof supporting your suspicions, this man will be treated as a guest on Paldaar.”

“Thank you, General,” Damon said, reaching out to Corey for his disrupter.

“I’m afraid your weapon will remain in our custody for the time being,” Arriaad said.

“I understand,” Damon said, obligingly.

With one hand behind his back and the other indicating the direction they were going, Arriaad walked beside Damon. “Shall we?”

Corey nodded toward a transport ship across the hangar. “My brother, Owen, will know if you’re telling the truth”

“You know as much as I do, Isolde,” Damon said.

“We’ll see,” Corey replied.

Corey rushed on ahead and climbed aboard a sleek-looking transport. Damon and Arriaad arrived at the Aurora. Compared to the blunt, bulky shuttles docked on either side, Aurora’s design spoke of a speed and maneuverability.

Only a skilled pilot like Damon himself could appreciate the beauty of such a space-going vessel. What I could do with a ship like this, he thought as he stood at the steps of the side hatch and surveyed the length and breadth of any pilot’s dreams. He wondered if she could be for sale.

Arriaad interrupted Damon’s fixation with the ship when he placed a hand on Damon’s back and turned to the men accompanying them. “Stand your post out here.” The general turned to Damon with the same polite gesture, motioning him to climb into the ship.

Damon stepped up into the hatchway and turned with his hand extended to Arriaad. “Does Paldaar have any more ships like this?”

“No. Aurora is one of a kind,” Arriaad replied.

“Really. You don’t suppose someone could buy her?”

Arriaad smiled. “I don’t think Owen Isolde would think of parting with her.”

“Wouldn’t hurt to ask now, would it?”

When Damon and Arriaad entered the passenger compartment, Corey, in the company of his brother, Owen, turned and pointed at him. They were not alone. Alec and Ida stood a short distance away. Damon caught their unblinking stares and became uneasy. Just what has Isolde been saying about me? he wondered, as the brother closed the distance between them. Damon mentally assessed his situation and took notes for his own preservation if this proved to be anything but a simple interrogation. If the Isoldes were out for blood, they’d pay dearly for any of his. The general was the closest with a weapon. The brother didn’t appear to be armed. The other two were unarmed, so they didn’t pose a threat. If he took out the commander, he’d still have the two guards outside…

“I’m Owen Isolde.” Owen extended his open hand. “And you’re Damon Gyles?”

“That’s right,” Damon said. Owen’s friendly gesture started him wondering.

“My brother here says you saved his life,” Owen said with his hand still extended. “I want to thank you.”

Damon took his hand and at the same time, watched a perturbed look settle on Corey’s face.

“Relax, friend,” Owen said as he backed away. “You have nothing to fear.”

“Nothing, you say?” Damon replied, “I tend to disagree there. As soon as we arrived, your brother here confiscated my weapon, had me slapped in restraints, and falsely accused me of your sister’s abduction, or at least having a hand in it. And you say I’ve nothing to worry about?”

“You have to understand our situation. Since our father, the Chief Consul, disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and numerous attempts were made on all our lives, Corey’s normal trusting behavior has been taxed to its limits with Cassia’s abduction,” Owen said.

“And you?” Damon continued to observe the other occupants of the ship’s compartment. “How trusting are you?”

“I have my limitations, as well, but I am willing to hear what you have to say.”

“Really,” Damon said.

“That’s right,” Owen answered. “Just answer a few questions, and then you’ll be free to leave.”

“What kind of questions?” Damon asked. “I’ve told your brother all I know.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Damon watched Corey step over to the two other witnesses and whisper something to them. In response, they nodded and turned their gaze in Damon’s direction, and Corey returned to Owen’s side.

“Yes, I know,” Owen said, “but Corey says those Deltans knew you.”

“You were talking to one of them as I came to,” Corey added.

“I won’t deny it,” Damon said. “That’s how I found out what happened to your sister…and that’s what I told the commander, here.”

“It was more than that,” Corey said. “They knew your name.”

“That’s impossible, you were out at the time,” Damon said.

“You called one…Malik?” Corey’s hand rested on the grip of his disrupter and the two silent ones seemed to take their cues from Corey and moved toward Damon.

“Okay, okay…so I knew him!” Damon said. “He was a soldier in Quillar’s prison. He knew me when Rufah and I were there!”

“Rufah?” Owen’s eyes widened.

“Yeah! He’s this Vrende giant. We escaped a few months back. That’s how that Deltan knew me and that’s how I came to be on Uvalde,” Damon explained.

“Can you prove this?” Owen asked.

“Yeah, sure, take me back to Uvalde-Minor. He’ll testify for me. I saved his life, too. Only, his people didn’t give me the third degree about it,” Damon said.

“You acted as if you were sorry for killing that Deltan,” Corey said.

“Sure, I was sorry. The man never did anything to the Vrende or me. Quillar trapped him into serving in the Militia just like…and I had him cold, he knew it, but he wouldn’t walk away. It was the case of self-defense. I did what I had to do. Consequently, you’re alive and four men are dead. What a waste.”

“Waste?” Owen said.

“Yeah,” Damon replied, “I killed four Deltans to save one ungrateful Paldaarean.”

“Why…you,” Corey snapped.

Corey was on the verge of charging Damon when Owen intervened, stepping between them, and pushed Corey back.

“Corey, calm down!” Owen gripped Corey by the shoulders. “Gyles has made a point.” Owen gave Damon an over-the-shoulder glance.

“What are we going to do about him?” Corey asked.

“There’s nothing to do. Your case against him wouldn’t hold up even if Cassia prosecuted it herself,” Owen answered. “What matters is you’re alive. Cassia is our main concern now.”

Damon turned to Arriaad. “Does this mean I’m free?”

Arriaad nodded. “It does.”

Damon turned with an outstretched hand toward Corey. “Well, in that case, I’ll have my disrupter back, if you please, Commander.”

With a nod from Corey, Alec stepped forward with the disrupter in his open palm. Damon took it with slight hesitation. By the time he had holstered the weapon, Corey and Owen had walked to the other side of the compartment to confer with the general.

The private conversation ended when Corey blurted out, “We all know Morgan’s behind this, and Quillar’s backing him!”

Morgan? He’d heard that name before. “Are we thinking and talking about the same Morgan?” Damon asked.

“There is only one Morgan,” Corey answered.

“That explains everything. Morgan’s put death marks out on you Isoldes. Quillar’s doing his dirty work. Take some sound advice,” Damon said, “you, and Corey better load up this ship of yours, and hyper jump it out of this galaxy for good. As for your sister…”

“She’s none of your concern,” Corey said. “If Quillar harms Cassia, I’ll…” Owen placed a calming hand on Corey’s shoulder.

“You’ll what?” said Damon.

Owen’s arm went about Corey’s shoulder, taking him back into their private huddle with Arriaad while Damon walked idly about the passenger compartment.

Damon was pensively rubbing the black, hairy accumulation on his face when an idea took form in his mind. His steel-blue eyes lit up as he weighed his pros and cons: Here was an opportunity to get the ship that he’d always wanted and fulfill his dreams. It was a gamble, though. Was it worth the risk? Right now, he thought, I’m less than nothing without a ship.

Damon turned toward the Isoldes, clearing his throat for attention. “Look, I don’t presume to tell you your business, but how badly do you want your sister back?”

Owen and Corey’s heads turned in unison. “What did you say?” asked Owen.

“I’m saying…what would you pay to get your sister back safe and sound?”

“You know where she is?” Owen said.

“Let’s say, that if she is on Delta-Linus, I might be able to find her,” Damon said.

“What do you do for a living, Gyles?” Owen asked suspiciously.

“Well, lately, I help people in distress,” Damon answered confidently as he sat down in one of the recliners and crossed his arms. “It won’t be easy, but it could be done.”

“He’s a mercenary, Owen,” Corey turned toward Damon. “I’m surprised you didn’t ask for pay after you saved my life.”

“Look at it this way, had I known in advance the type of ingrate you really are, I might’ve had second thoughts about getting involved,” Damon said, “but now, things are different.”

“I see. What guarantee can you give us?” Owen asked.

“I won’t deal that way because it’ll be a big risk on my part.”

“How do you deal?”

“Simple. I deliver…you pay,” Damon said. “And you needn’t worry. Right now, I’m on a lucky roll.”

“How much?” Owen asked again.

“Owen!” Corey said. “You can’t be serious!”

Owen eyed Damon head-to-toe in thought. “Name your price. What do you want?”

Damon rose to his feet with a smile, rubbing his hands together like a greedy miser strolling about a treasure vault. “I’ll make it easy, Isolde.” With his arms wide open, Damon turned back to Owen. “This ship will do just fine.”

Aurora?” said Corey. “Owen, he’s blackmailing us, don’t you see it? I’ll get Cassia back.”

General Arriaad broke his silence. “Commander, Quillar would most certainly be expecting you.”

“I agree,” Owen said. “We’re family and that makes the situation too dangerous for us, and Cassia.”

While the three men stood arguing the pros and cons arising from Damon’s proposal, the Deltan continued his stroll about the compartment under the silent, watchful gazes of Alec and Ida. They were as silent as the Vrende. Wonder if they’re mutes.

He smiled and nodded at them. “Hi, there,” he said not expecting a response.

“Hello, sir,” Alec responded in a congenial tone.

“The name’s Damon Gyles,” he said, “and you are…”

“Alec, sir,” the android said, “and this is my counterpart, Ida.”

“Counterpart. You mean…wife?” Damon asked.

“No, sir, she is my counterpart,” Alec said.

“Okay. Relatives?”

“To what, sir?” Alec replied.

“To them, you know? Aunt, uncle, sister, brother?”

“Oh, that.” Alec shook his head. “No, we work as assistants, sir.”

“So, what can you tell me about this ship?” Damon asked.

“Beginning with what, sir?” Alec said.

“Who built her…when…you know,” Damon said, “and any imperfections I should know about?”

“There are no imperfections, sir,” Alec answered. “Professor Owen designed Aurora three years ago and we completed her a little less than two.”

“We?”

“Yes, the professor and myself,” Alec answered. “You’ll not find a more ordered vessel, sir.”

“Really. Tell me more,” Damon said.

“Gyles!” Owen called.

Damon turned as Owen and Arriaad approached him. Corey, with the same obstinate look on his face, stood on the other side of the compartment.

“You’ve got a deal,” Owen said. “But, if you fail…if anything happens to our sister…”

“Understood,” Damon said.

“When can you get started?” Arriaad said.

“Depends on how soon Corey can have Aurora ready.”

Aurora’s not yours yet, Gyles,” Corey snapped.

“I know that,” Damon retorted, “but we’re going to need a fast ship. Is Aurora fast?”

“None faster,” Corey joined his brother.

“Well, if you’re as good a pilot and following orders as you are at shooting your mouth off, then we should make a good team.”

“Don’t hold your breath!” Corey stormed out of the compartment through a passageway leading toward the command center of the ship.

After watching his brother leave, Owen turned to find Damon was leaving as well. “Hey, where are you going?”

“Deal’s off, Isolde! Better find someone else,” Damon said. “I’m not taking on more than I can handle.”

Owen stepped between Gyles and the passage to the hatchway. “A deal’s a deal! You can’t walk out on it now!”

“Watch me,” Damon said.

“No, wait! Go ahead, take Aurora.”

“Look, Isolde…I know nothing about this ship. I need someone to pilot her for me, and to cover my back if it comes to a fight. Aurora may be a valuable asset in this venture, but life is a little dearer to me…just forget it.”

“I’ll go with you!” Owen said.

“You?” Damon chuckled, “Can you handle a disrupter— ever do any hand-to-hand combat?”

Owen shook his head.

“Didn’t think so. Be seeing you.”

“No, wait!” Owen pointed toward Alec and Ida. “If it’s a pilot you need, Alec is superb. Ida has med-tech skills. Both are artificially intelligent and adapt to any situation.”

“Artificial?” Damon took a closer look at the androids. “Who, them…they’re…robots?”

“Androids, sir,” Alec said.

Damon issued a reserved sigh. Androids.

“You won’t find better assistants, and I promise you, they will be no trouble to you at all.” Owen placed a hand on Alecs shoulder. “They both know Aurora inside-out.”

“Have they ever killed anyone…would they?” Damon asked.

“They’ll do whatever is expected of them without hesitation, I assure you,” Owen answered with confidence. “They are quite capable. Well?”

After a moment of thought, Damon sighed, “All right. We’re back in business.”

“Good!” Owen said and turned toward the androids, “Alec, ready Aurora immediately. From now on, you and Ida will take your orders from Captain Gyles.” Owen turned to Ida. “See that all necessary assault weaponry and med-tech supplies are stowed onboard, and also recalibrate all sensorial systems.” He turned to Alec. “Charge the twins to full.”

“Yes, sir,” Alec replied.

“Yes, sir,” Ida said.

Artificial, eh? Who would have thought? Damon watched as the androids immediately left the compartment in two different directions: Alec toward the command center—Ida down a narrow passage toward the back of the ship.

“In the meantime, General Arriaad will requisition any stores you may need,” Owen said.

“I could sure use a bath and some clean clothes,” Damon said.

“Say no more,” Owen replied, “and while you take some nourishment, I’ll have a talk with Corey. I’m sure I can change his mind.”

“Do that…and while you’re at it, adjust that attitude of his,” Damon said. “His kind of thinking will surely get him killed by the enemy.” If I don’t do it before we get to Delta, that is, he thought in gest.

General Arriaad, with the same congenial military courtesy, gave Damon the lead as they headed back to the hatchway. “This way, Captain,” he said, “I think we can find something for you.”

j

Morgan was pacing about his private living quarters on Baldaninus when the doors swung open to admit Quillar. The Deltan lord strutted in with a prideful smile on his face. In grand style, Quillar unclasped his black cloak, allowing it to swing from his shoulders, and draped it over the back of a high-back chair as he closed the distance between himself and Morgan.

“The galaxy will soon be within your grasp,” he said with a bow.

A look of contentment appeared on Morgan’s face. “Our plans have been successful?”

“With my elite on the job,” Quillar replied, “it’s flawless.”

“And, how is the Chief Consul?” Morgan asked.

“Resting in peace among the stars he so loved. The Androcles was no match for my battle cruiser. They tried to run, but we had them in our sights before they could react. When we targeted the main thrusters and communications array, the life-support went along with them,” said Quillar.

“What if someone finds the ship?”

“Not to worry. We placed it under our tractor beam and towed it well out of his original flight plan coordinates. Even if it is found, dead men make such poor witnesses,” the Deltan replied. “Word of your other trophies should arrive shortly.”

“And, what of yours?” Morgan asked. “I am aware of your fascination for the young woman, but I wouldn’t build your hopes too high. She may be more than you can handle.”

“Separated from her family, she won’t have much fight in her by the time I return to Delta.”

Morgan sat down laughing and shaking his head. “Quillar, Quillar,” he said, “I fear she may be your undoing.”

A light knock on the door preceded its opening. Nils Adomas, still clad as a Sasshaan nomad, rushed in and came to immediate attention as the door closed behind him. Quillar was too vainglorious to notice the fearful expression on the man’s face and Nils’ fleeting glance toward Morgan.

Quillar walked over to the man. “Your report?” Nils was not quick to answer. “Well, what is it?”

Nils was no longer the cocky officer. “Milord, something happened…we were not prepared.”

Quillar frowned. It was not the answer expected from any one of his men. “Explain.”

“It lacked only the swing of the knife,” Nils said, “but, he appeared from out of nowhere.”

“What is he talking about?” Morgan asked.

“Lady Cassia?” Quillar inquired quickly.

“She’s on Delta,” Nils answered.

Morgan’s telecom buzzed and Morgan went to answer it. “Yes, what is it?”

“Milord, we just got word from Roashaan,” a voice said.

“Go on,” Morgan said.

“Owen Isolde…lives, sir,” the voice said.

Morgan flew into a rage, turning on Quillar. “Your so-called elite were experts, you said!”

Morgan walked to a nearby table, grabbed a decanter, poured a drink, and downed it without hesitation.

“They are experts,” Quillar stated firmly, “and I thought if their deaths appeared as unrelated incidents…”

“Unrelated? How can the deaths of an entire family in different quadrants of the galaxy so close together be considered unrelated accidents?” Morgan said. “I didn’t care how it looked! I wanted them…dead!” He turned on Nils. “You said he appeared…who?”

“Yes, milord,” Nils answered, turning to Quillar. “Lord Quillar, it was him…Damon Gyles! He was there on Uvalde-Minor!”

Quillar gasped and Morgan looked around at him. “You know this man?” Morgan asked.

“Are you sure?” Quillar asked.

“It was him all right,” Nils said. “I spoke to him.”

“Who is this…Gyles?” asked Morgan.

“He was one of my militia some time ago,” Quillar replied, “Now he’s a worthless, murdering deserter.”

“This worthless deserter, as you put it, just cost me a decisive victory.” Morgan waved Nils out of the room.

“I won’t be held responsible for this,” Quillar said.

“But you are, Quillar,” Morgan replied, “However, despite this minor setback, we may yet have another chance to dispose of the Isoldes. Yes…this could work to our advantage this time,” Morgan said. “Return to Delta, Quillar, and prepare to receive some expected guests. The brothers, no doubt, will piece everything together and come to Delta looking for their sister. This time, you will be ready for them.”

As Quillar retrieved his cloak on his way to the door, Morgan spoke again with an even colder tone in his voice. “I require all three heads now, Quillar,” he said, “plus one other…this Damon Gyles. Another failure will have consequences.”

Quillar nodded and walked out of Morgan’s presence with seething rage; beads of profuse perspiration oozed from the pores of his forehead. Damon Gyles was the worst mistake he had ever made. Whatever possessed me to enlist a Soarer pilot into my militia? Gyles did not appreciate the privilege and opportunity I afforded him. I saw his rebellious attitude that day in the arena. I should have dealt with him then.

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