Book: Breach of Faith

Breach of Faith

Breach of Faith

Breach of Faith Book Two

Daniel Gibbs Gary T. Stevens


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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32


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Breach of Faith by Daniel Gibbs and Gary T. Stevens

Copyright © 2019 by Daniel Gibbs

Visit Daniel Gibb’s website at

Cover by Jeff Brown Graphics—

Additional Illustrations by Joel Steudler—

Editing by Beth at

3D Art by Benoit Leonard

This book is a work of fiction, the characters, incidents and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. For permissions please contact [email protected]

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Echoes of War

Book 1 - Fight the Good Fight

Book 2 - Strong and Courageous

Book 3 - So Fight I

Book 4 - Gates of Hell

Book 5 - Keep the Faith

Book 6 - Run the Gauntlet

Breach of Faith

(With Gary T. Stevens)

Book 1 - Breach of Peace

Book 2 - Breach of Faith

Book 3 - Breach of Duty

Breach of Faith



Lusitania, Independent System, Neutral Space

16 August 2560

The Plaza of the Republic—Praça da República—had barely half of its routine crowds. The police presence was triple the usual, and black-suited Republic Security Service members were ubiquitous. Some strolled along, as if having a pleasant day, and others sat at open cafés sipping at drinks, even eating small meals. But nobody was fooled. They were here to watch people.

People like Major Abdul Rahman al-Lahim of the Terran Coalition Intelligence Service.

A descendant of the Exodus Fleet's Arab contingent and a son of the core world New Arabia, al-Lahim was station chief for the CIS on Lusitania. From the capital of the planet, the city of Gamavilla, he managed a network of contacts and agents toward three purposes: saving Lusitania's democracy from its authoritarian and increasingly fascist "Estado Novo" government, cultivating connections to convince them to side with the Coalition, and counteracting the agents of the League of Sol trying to do the same thing.

Now it looked like he might fail at all three.

Al-Lahim's eyes ventured up to the hole in the side of the Parliament Building, where bombs had devastated the Assembly Chamber, killing four-fifths of the elected members, wounding most of the rest, and leaving the planet almost leaderless. President Emiliano Vargas was constitutionally restricted from acting without ministers, and so far, nobody knew if any of them had survived.

In the wake of that attack, Gamavilla was on lockdown. Martial law was in force with a curfew that began at sundown. Anyone on the streets had to have an approved reason to be out and about.

One barrio resisted the previous night, its denizens deciding to hold a street party. The military and police moved in at the instigation of the RSS. The result: ten dead, dozens wounded, four apartment blocks damaged, and two hundred people held in jail.

Al-Lahim sipped at his coffee again, enjoying the smooth and creamy taste. It was the only pleasure he felt. He had other concerns, after all. The Shadow Wolf, the independent vessel he'd hired to pick up a former CIS operative in trouble, was overdue. The agent in question was a trainer he'd had in CIS, Miriam Gaon, who was marked for death by the League.

He was worried about her. He thought of how the same ship was already late in returning to Lusitania due to an attack by Tash'vakal nomads, one he suspected was instigated by the League. He also thought about the merchant ship Miri had been working on, the Kensington Star, captured and stolen away, with only Miri slipping away by spacing herself with extra oxygen and a transmitter, in hopes of being rescued.

The situation here on Lusitania, the ship disappearances—al-Lahim felt a deep, intuitive worry about it all. While it could all be coincidence, he doubted it greatly. The League of Sol combined inhuman malice with a pernicious mindset, and both events benefited them. That everything was happening while a League mission was already underway to Canaan for peace talks heightened his suspicions, even if God knew he wanted the war over.

His commlink beeped. He picked it up and answered. "Hello."

An accented male voice on the other end spoke softly. "That ship you asked me about. It jumped in-system five minutes ago."

Some of al-Lahim's burden lifted. "Allahu akbar," he sighed. "Can you tell me anything else?"

"They're still repairing and reported an engine short. But if you ask me, there's something else going on with that ship."

"Have they been directed to one of the space stations?"

"The captain informed control he was under government orders to return to Gamavilla. It checked out. They've given him landing clearance."

"Very well. Thank you for your information." Given the proximity of government agents, al-Lahim refrained from saying more. Be careful, he urged his man in the System Traffic Control Center.

So they'd made it. Not without some problems. What had happened? He'd have to find out.

Al-Lahim stood and deposited his bill and a tip before leaving the establishment. He walked along the plaza, intent on returning to the embassy. Electronic surveillance was possible, as was a tail from RSS, but he kept himself secure from ambush and didn't mind being followed. This was part of his varied routine anyway. Neither the RSS nor League External Security would learn anything of value by following him.

His commlink beeped. Keeping his legs in motion, he retrieved it from his pocket and checked the display. His eyes widened.

I'm alive. - Garbo

Breach of Faith

The League of Sol's approach to the people of Lusitania was typical for that organization, to present themselves as the allies of the oppressed and representatives of a superior social system that would end poverty and economic classes. Their embassy choice reflected this, as it was erected in the heart of one of Gamavilla's poorest barrios. The external buildings were often rented to residents of the barrio, often for free, to hold community meetings and celebrations. Even the ambassador herself, Taley Salinas, often mingled with the poorest of Gamavilla's people, espousing the message of equality and peace under the Society.

The inner building was different. Sophisticated security isolated it from the external structures of the compound. Armed guards manned watch posts. Here, the ambassador and her staff slept in safety—the cynical enjoyed noting this to their supporters among their neighbors, usually to much yelling and hostility.

Their security was overseen by Chantavit Li, a commander of the League's security forces. He was assigned to External Security and posted here on Lusitania, which made him very important for the plan currently unfolding.

A plan that still had a few wrinkles.

The message on his screen was from his operative in system traffic control. A ship had jumped in and insisted it was on a mission from the ministries, and someone cleared its return. Given the lockdown, that was curious. When Li saw that it was the Shadow Wolf, he could see why.

Li had an ally in the Lusitanian government. A few, actually, and all were part of the League's plan to inflict a double blow on the Terran Coalition. Unfortunately, the ally was not under firm control and had taken a course contrary to Li's wishes, which was why the traitor Miriam Gaon, responsible for the defeat of a possible war-winning offensive nearly a decade ago, was able to escape the planet Harron before his hired man could capture her. An effort at an interception in space failed as well. After that, Admiral Hartford, commander of this operation, sent his stolen fleet to do the job.

Now they too had failed.

That intrigued Li. The EMP cannon made such intercepts of civilian ships easy, especially when they didn't raise their deflectors in time to resist the EMP. It had to have been used on the Shadow Wolf—the ship's system failures, reported to traffic control, were consistent with the weapon—so how did they escape? Was there a vulnerability they exploited?

Li had to find out, and more to the point, he had to bring Gaon into custody. Not only was she due to be justly executed for her crimes against Society, but her presence might also allow for reinforcement of their goal, with the right approach.

He triggered the secured commlink and waited patiently. After five seconds, one of his key contacts appeared. "The Shadow Wolf is landing soon," he said. "And this is what we are going to do."


ISV Shadow Wolf

On Approach to Lusitania

16 August 2560

James Henry moved through the half-lit corridors of his ship clad in a full softsuit—an atmospheric suit made of light materials that gave greater mobility than heavier, stronger hardsuits designed for full EVA. The lack of significant light cast long shadows into his helmet, which blended well with his dark skin and eyes. He felt the familiar fatigue of a post-crisis adrenaline crash coming on, which he resisted. The others were waiting for him.

When he walked into the galley of the Shadow Wolf, he was met with silence. Much of his crew were here, save those who had the skills to get their regular plasma drives going again after the EMP weapon knocked out almost all of the Shadow Wolf's electrical systems. They were fortunate the inactive systems couldn't be affected by it, which was how they managed to flee: the usually inactive fusion drive installed into their rear holds, which gave them the engine thrust and electrical power to escape.

Everyone was sitting at tables, all in softsuits. The one exception still standing was his first mate Tia Nguyen, once a resident of the oppressed world of Hestia, driven into exile by the defeat of the revolutionary movement she'd devoted herself to. She had a pale spacer's complexion and tanned yellow skin, since most of her distant ancestors hailed from Southeast Asia, just as most of Henry's hailed from Africa. Henry could see in her face how upset she was, with her gray eyes an excellent tone to evoke storm clouds. Her opposition to getting involved in this situation seemed all the more justified by every crisis they'd met since departing Lusitania to retrieve Karla Lupa, a.k.a. Miriam Gaon.

Now they'd learned about the bombing, and the strong possibility both of their employers in the Lusitanian government were dead.

It was Vidiadhar Andrews, "Vidia" to the others, who spoke first. "God care for their souls," he said quietly, his accent from the Afro-Caribbean-colonized world of New Antilla. "An' bring justice ta the killers."

"What of our contacts?" The question came from the ship's Second Mate and only alien crewmember. Yanik S'srish was a Saurian, a species with militant cultures that once waged wars with the Terran Coalition before the Coalition's victory brought an end to its vicious expansionism. Now they were quasi-allies of the Terran Coalition while still being officially neutral in the war, and were the most powerful of the neutral governments. Yanik directed his yellow eyes to Henry. His tongue flicked inside of his helmet. "Do we have any employers left?"

"I'm not sure," Henry began. "They're not saying who survived the bombing yet. State secret."

"There's a complete news blackout, planet-wide," Piper Lopez added. Through her faceplate, her coppery-toned skin was pale, not just from the spacer life but from the shock and fear of their narrow escape from the League. Like Tia, she came from a neutral world, Sanctuary, named because it was the chosen homeworld for the Native American tribes that managed to put together the colony ships to flee Earth in the 22nd Century. Her light brown eyes were bloodshot. "None of the usual news organizations are transmitting. The government's ordered it all shut down until further notice. Planetary security."

"Perfect time for a coup d'etat." Felix Rothbard's accent was nearly the same as Henry's. A former CDF officer like Henry, they'd grown up together on New Virginia in the town of Tylerville. Felix had the light-colored skin of a Caucasian, with his hair and beard a wheat-colored blond tone. "Nobody knows anything; most of the government's dead. All sorts of mischief can happen." There was a subtle shake to his voice, one Henry and a couple of others noticed. He was worried about Jules, his brother.

Jules Rothbard was the primary reason they were in this situation. A Methodist minister and devoted to his faith, Jules joined the multi-denominational Faith Outreach organization. He was assigned to a mission in Gamavilla. As a Coalition national, this put him in the crosshairs of the nationalistic, fascist PdDN—Partido da Defesa Nacional, Party of National Defense—who attacked his mission frequently and assaulted him on occasion. Ultimately, he drew the attention of the PdDN's leader, the ruthless Cristina Caetano. She blackmailed Henry into bringing Miri to Lusitania, with Jules' freedom and life on the line if he failed.

But for all Henry knew, Caetano was dead from the bombs. The same might be true of one of their best clients, Duarte Vitorino, the Minister of Trade and Culture, who also wanted Miri on Lusitania. If both were dead, though, who'd given them clearance to land on Gamavilla instead of one of the space stations? Their third employer for the "bring Miri to Lusitania" job, al-Lahim of the CIS, wouldn't have that kind of pull, even through contacts. Not in the lockdown the system was under.

The thought haunted Henry. With the League hunting them, as were the Tokarev brothers, a pair of privateers from the colony Cyrilgrad, he felt harried and uncertain. Something big was happening, and they'd been drawn into the middle of it.

"Everyone be careful when we get planetside," Henry said to the others. "At the very least, if both Vitorino and Caetano are dead, al-Lahim will pay us. I might be able to get some hazard bonuses from him too. If it comes down to it, we can replenish stores, deal with that hole Samina found in the stern holds, and get off-world ASAP."

"Then head straight for Omega," said Tia, her voice low. "Trifid's too hot for us now."

"Aye, I'll say," Cera muttered.

"I'd still like to know just what the hell the League's up to," Felix grumbled. "For my own peace of mind, if anything."

"Whatever it is, it's over our heads," Tia pointed out. "This isn't the CDF."

"Yeah, but does this mean the peace talks are a sham? Or is it a case of their military and intelligence service doing their own thing against orders? This could be important." Felix directed a look at Tia. "Running for Omega won't do us a damn bit of good if the League starts swallowing neutral worlds left and right."

"And what are we supposed to do about it, Rothbard?" Tia asked, her voice low and almost a hiss. "We barely escaped from a glorified Q-ship! We might not have if those pirates hadn't shown up. Pirates that are after us too, now!"

With that, Tia's head turned to face Miriam Gaon, who was still sitting quietly in her softsuit. She had a faint bronze tone, paled by life as a spacer, and sad brown eyes. "Just what the hell did you do to piss them off anyway?"

"Nothing, myself," Miri replied, her tone quiet and even. "But I wouldn't be surprised if the authorities think they attacked the Kensington Star. They're the ones who saved me, after all, and," she shrugged, "let's face it, few people believe in someone spacing themselves to escape anything, not unless they know help's coming."

"It's not our problem anyway," Piper said.

Felix rolled his eyes. "See, that's the problem I have with this whole thing." He looked at each member of the crew in sequence. "The League's come to take over Sagittarius. Not just the Coalition. All of us. They've said it since the day they hit Canaan! You neutrals still act like it's not your problem."

"Because we've got our own problems," Tia pointed out testily. "We've got pirates and rogue megacorps screwing us over. Although I guess you don't mind the last, do you?"

Felix glared at her.

Henry drew in a breath to intervene, not wanting to put up with another shouting match between his second-in-command and his best friend, given their differing politics. He was saved from a necessary intervention by the PA system trilling. "Engineering here." The voice was Samina Khan's, their new Engineer's Mate. "Engineer Hartzog and Ms. Tama'si are getting the reactors online. We have full power to the plasma drives."

"Finally," Henry breathed. He nodded to Piper and their helmswoman, dark-haired Cera McGinty from New Connaught. "Signal Traffic Control and tell them we're burning in now. Follow their course exactly."

They nodded in understanding. "The way things sound, the entire system's on a hair-trigger," Piper said. "We won't give them any reason to worry about us." That assurance given, the two departed the galley, the magboots of their softsuits thunk-thunk-thunking down the central passageway.

The distraction deflated the growing tension between Felix and Tia. With the post-crisis adrenaline crash coming down on everyone, the energy seeped from the room. "Everyone, be ready for atmospheric entry. Other than that, you're free to do what you want," Henry said, at which point he left the room.

Breach of Faith

Henry's office was only halfway cleaned up from the zero-G and high-G effects when the knock came on his door. He looked up and expected Tia or Felix, come to vent about the other's behavior and political views. "Come in," he said wearily, uncertain of whether he had the patience to put up with it.

To his surprise and relief, his guest was Samina. She was the youngest crew he'd ever had aboard, an eighteen-year-old girl.

Indeed, it was clear Samina hadn't come through the crisis unscathed. While her role had been crucial — without her, they wouldn't have escaped — it'd also been a terrifying experience. He looked into her brown eyes and the pale look of her face and knew immediately what she was dealing with. "You were too busy working to feel it earlier," he said without prompting. "The adrenaline crash. It always hits when the danger's over, and you're already letting yourself think about it. About what could've gone wrong."

She took a ragged breath and nodded.

"If your uncle were here, or Chief Khánh, what would they do?" Henry asked gently.

"Let me hug them.”

Henry chuckled to himself. His first impulse was to dismiss the idea. It was silly. It was unprofessional. Samina was becoming an adult and needed to grow up.

Once those thoughts passed, he imagined things from the point of view of a teenage girl who'd just left her last living family member and her entire emotional support network, and already forced from her homeworld by the League as a child who lost her parents and most of her family to a pirate attack. With a deep sigh, Henry gently spread his arms.

Samina embraced him with such speed and ferocity, he briefly wondered if she'd crack a rib. She sniffled, trying and failing to hold back tears. Henry patted her on the head and let her keep the hug for as long as she needed.

She was still hugging when she said, "I'm s-sorry, Captain. I know I-I'm supposed to b-be… mature. Professional."

"It's fine, kid," Henry said. "The hug's a first, but you wouldn't be the first kid I had to help through their first crash."


"Back when I was in the CDF," he continued. "Once you hit captain, you get departmental responsibilities in some commands. I had a couple of deployments when I had to help the new recruits through things. First time's always the hardest."

"You get used to it?" she asked.

"A bit. Doesn't go away entirely in most people. In a few, yeah, but they're special cases." And not always the best. He chuckled. "My door's always open if you need to talk. Just don't get used to the hugs."

Samina let go of him, looking somewhat embarrassed now, even if she was enjoying being comforted through the experience. "I won't, sir, I promise," she assured him. "I hope I didn't—"

"You saved the ship, Samina," Henry said with a tone of insistence. "You don't have to apologize for anything."

She nodded quietly. "Does this happen often?"

"No. But it can happen," he answered. "Part of being a spacer, kid. There's always people out there looking to take what's yours, for whatever reason. And you've gotta fight 'em. For yourself, your self-respect, and others."

Samina nodded again, accepting the wisdom. "Uncle Ali said that to me before. That a lot of spacers have to be willing to fight."

"Wise man. Be ready to fight and hope it doesn't come to it."

"Inshallah, yes."

Henry smiled and nodded at the sentiment. He gestured toward the stern. "Now, why don't you go check in with Doctor Kiderlein? You said you were hurt during the high-G burn. Oskar can make sure you're alright."

"I will, Captain. Thank you again." Samina gave him a final smile before heading off.

Henry watched her go and thought back to all the other young people he'd had to help through danger. Frightened men and women, some as young as eighteen, sent off to fight and die for the Coalition. To save their worlds from League occupation and oppression. How they dealt with that terrible first experience with combat and the ones that didn't survive.

It made him feel guilty. All of his instincts told him the League was up to something nasty, and they might even pull it off.

But how could he stop it? He was just one independent trader captain with a few contacts. They were the League of Sol, the largest interstellar state in existence. Trillions of human beings lived under the sun-and-fist. They had a fleet that was probably three, even four times the size of the Terran Coalition, which had enjoyed the largest spacefleet in the entire known Sagittarius Arm since the last of the Saurian Wars. How could he and his small ship stand up to that?

"It's not my place," he muttered to himself bitterly. "Not my job. Not anymore." Then he went back to work.

Breach of Faith

The quiet trilling of the bio-sensors of her hospital bed was the only sound that came to Paulina Ascaro's attention as she quietly read her digital reader. Her husband Martzel and son Xabier were absent for the moment, getting a much-needed meal from the cafeteria of the National Hospital, while Ascaro took the time to catch up on events while she'd been incapacitated.

She knew she should be grateful. She was one of the few lucky ones. She'd only lost her left hand to the bombs, while four out of five of her colleagues in the Assembly lost their lives, as had a multitude of staffers, gallery observers, and other personnel of the Parliament Building.

The list was sobering. Friends and foes, allies and enemies; they were all there among the slain. For years, she'd served with these people. Debating, arguing, making points of order, and issuing parliamentary motions, enduring the tedium of long-winded peers—which many considered her to be in some respects. Now they were gone, and she might yet be joining them.

There was still no word about which Cabinet ministers, if any, survived the attack. A few other surviving colleagues who were awake messaged to check on her, and she'd sent plenty of similar messages, but it was clear to all that the security services were intentionally hiding news about survivors in the Cabinet. The claim was that until the investigation into the bombing was finished, this was necessary to prevent further attacks. It also meant the security services had the perfect excuse to do what they wished.

Such as, say, arrest democratic politicians they regarded as "enemies of the state," using the State of Siege regulations as justification. Given her current condition, Ascaro would be pathetically easy for them to take, especially with two of their agents outside her hospital door.

She had no illusions as to what that would entail. Torture was probable. She’d probably be beaten. The security services had no love for democrats that sought to repeal the Estado Novo constitutional "reforms" that gave them their power. Most of the RSS was loyal to Caetano's vision of Lusitania, and even those who weren't were at least legalistic authoritarians like Director Jorge Travada, and just as hostile to the forces of democracy.

But I will persist, she swore to herself. She owed it to her people, to her constituents in Zalain and every Lusitanian. She summoned up that passion for their rights to stave off her growing fear. She focused on her predicament. I must get out of here.

The door opened. Her son Xabier stepped in. "Pa's going to pick up Marta and Carmen," he said.

Seeing her younger daughters would be welcome, but it sent a trickle of fear through Ascaro. The RSS would use them to get to her. She had to get Martzel and the others to safety. Then she'd do whatever she could, and she had no illusions she could prevail.

Breach of Faith

With hard work, Pieter and Brigitte got the artificial gravity and life support back on before they arrived in orbit of Lusitania. Henry entered the bridge, softsuit finally discarded, and sat to watch as Cera skillfully brought them in for a landing. The landing vector was limited almost beyond reason, he pondered, staring at the approach.

Piper voiced what he was already thinking. "They're forcing us to come down over rural and uninhabited areas," she said. "It's like they're worried we're going to drop bombs on their cities or something."

"It wouldn't surprise me if that were exactly what they’re worried about," Henry said quietly. "It's happened before. The League used to pull that with captured civilian ships. Pretend to be refugees, come in on landing vectors over our cities, then drop bombs on them. Got so bad, the CDF had to restrict refugee movement. It didn't go over well."

Piper sighed aloud. "Just when I think the war hasn't made our lives complicated enough."

Much to their relief—and the probable relief of the Lusitanian authorities—Cera kept them on course without the slightest deviation. Once at the spaceport, she banked them over to the hangar already assigned by the government and brought them in for a landing.

Henry noted that a handful of government vehicles were already present. Crap. This could go so wrong.

Once the ship was safely on the ground, Piper looked to him warily. "Orders, boss?"

"Stand everyone down for now," he said. "We're in no shape to run. Arrange a rotation with Pieter to ensure everyone's getting a chance to rest while we fix the rest of the ship."

"I'll make arrangements to get the fuses replenished," Tia offered. "From what little we have left in the bank accounts."

"Hopefully, it won't be little for much longer," Henry said, already standing. "Let me go see what's waiting for us."

"With our luck today, I'm afraid t' ask," Cera muttered.

Breach of Faith

Miri was waiting for Henry when he got to the mid-starboard hold. She was in a gray spacer's jumpsuit, one of the Shadow Wolf spares, with her hair brushed back into place. For her, it was a bit of vanity, perhaps. If she was going to get hung as a pirate, she wanted to at least look presentable.

Henry likely noticed her fatalistic mood. "I've got no idea what's going to happen," he said while stepping down from the metal stairs to the floor of the hangar. He was in a dark blue spacer's jacket over a green shirt and dark trousers. His pistol was hanging at his side from a holster. "Do you want to wait and see what they're here for?"

"No," Miri said. She shook her head. "I want this over with. If they think I'm a pirate, then there's nothing to be done about that. Just… see about getting people wondering about the League involvement. Show them your records of the attack."

"I plan on it," Henry said, which was the only assurance she knew he could give. She said nothing as he hit the switch on the control panel to open the hold.

A number of dark-suited men and women were standing quietly, a few discreetly holding firearms. Henry paid them no heed and walked toward a man standing out in the crowd. "That's one of Caetano's people," he whispered to Miri.

She nodded. So he survived at least. Did his boss?

Henry, meanwhile, began speaking. "I'm Captain James Henry, Shadow Wolf," he began. "Mister Carvalho, right?"

"Yes. João Carvalho, personal chief of security to the Prime Minister," was the answer. The Lusitanian man apparently enjoyed moving up in the world. His eyes turned to Miri. "This is Karla Lupa?"

"I am the survivor from the Kensington Star, yes," she said. "Although I believe the rest of the crew is still alive."

"So you say." Carvalho looked her over intently. His expression shifted to show bemusement and a slight grin. "New Cornwall's issued a warrant for your arrest, by the way. They will insist on your extradition if they learn you're here."

"They're wrong about me," Miri replied. "I didn't flee Harron by choice. I was attacked by someone sent to silence me. Captain Henry's crew rescued me."

"And we've been attacked twice now over it," Henry added.

"I'm aware of the Tash'vakal attack," said Carvalho. "And your engine damage upon jumping in indicated another. My superior will discuss this when you arrive."

"Caetano, I'm guessing," Henry said.

"I'm not allowed to divulge that information in public. Right now, it’s a state secret," was the answer. "Until we ascertain the full measure of the threat to the safety of the surviving Cabinet. Follow me, both of you."

Miri saw the tension in Henry as he stepped forward first. He didn't trust this situation. She didn't blame him either. As Felix had said, this was the perfect opportunity for a coup d'etat, and the refusal to admit the survivors publicly hinted at something more sinister. But neither of them had a choice, given the situation. Both went to the vehicle with Carvalho, who directed that the motorcade move out. One by one, the aircars pulled away from the hangar and left the spaceport.

As they drove through the city, Miri kept looking out at the nearly-empty streets. Many of those out and about were military or law enforcement personnel. A lot of the civilians seemed to be rushing along, as if terrified they'd come to government attention. It was not at all like the vibrant life she'd seen here a few years prior, during the last occasion when a ship she was on came to Gamavilla.

"Oh my God," muttered Henry. Miri turned her head and let out a soft gasp at the sight. A massive hole was showing in the side of the Parliament Building, covered in an enormous tarp. She knew by her earlier visit that the Assembly Chamber was the center of the damage. "Did anyone survive it?"

"I cannot say who, but some of the Assembly and visitors in the gallery did," Carvalho said. "It was a great and terrible crime. We will be quite thorough in punishing those responsible."

The aircar continued with the rest of the motorcade, down the Rua de Republica, and turned into the parking lot of the Royal Lusitania, one of the luxury hotels of the city. "For purposes of security, the State has taken control of this building and other hotels," Carvalho said.

That made sense to Miri. If they were worried about a wide-scale penetration of their security service, none of the standard residences would be safe. Playing a shell game with the hotels of the capital, and some of the private homes, would secure remaining government officials quite well, especially if they kept them moving to prevent eventual detection.

The motorcade pulled up to the entrance of the hotel. A security service woman in an elegant suit with a simple hijab wrapped over her head was waiting. A short-barreled automatic pulse gun hung from a shoulder strap as a clear warning to any potential threat. She kept the gun in her left hand while opening the door with her right.

"This way," Carvalho said, moving so Miri could slide out and Henry after her. "Please leave your firearm with security, Captain. We must insist."

Henry nodded and slowly pulled his pistol from his holster. The security guard accepted it. "Come to me when you are done," she ordered, her Arabic accent thick when she spoke.

The lobby was built for luxury. The baroque exterior was matched by exquisite tile on the floors that reflected the electric chandeliers that hung from the roof. A vibrant red carpet flowed from the door to the elevators beyond, while to one direction uniformed hotel personnel stood at their workplaces. Miri figured they were security officers in disguise. While the public couldn't miss the security measures, this would obscure the hotel's takeover.

The elevator took them up four floors, emptying into a hall every bit as decorated as the lobby was. The carpeting here was a verdant green framed by red, the old colors of the Portuguese Republic. The blue-tiled walls were covered in elegant portraiture and drapes with fine Arabic calligraphy. Miri figured this floor might only have four or five sets of suites, tops, and all furnished for wealthy clientele.

They arrived at a double door marked with the number forty-two. Carvalho opened the door and stepped into the foyer of a grand suite. Cream-colored couches and chairs surrounded a low table of beautiful crystal while a chandelier poured warm light down upon the visage. A wet bar to the right was lined with fine liquors, brandies, and wines. On the left was a pantry and kitchen, its surface made of burnished coppery-toned hardwood with stainless steel appliances and sink. Further to the right, beyond the center of the room, was a passageway presumably leading to the bedrooms. Elegant curtains were pulled down to cover the windows, which were set to be fully tinted, defeating external surveillance.

Four armed guards were standing in the room, and two more were seated. All turned to face them.

The only person who moved was the one sitting in the central recliner. A digital reader was set quietly down on the crystal table, allowing Miri and Henry to look into the face of its owner. "Captain, Miss Lupa, the Prime Minister of Lusitania," Carvalho said as if presenting a monarch.

"Ah, Captain Henry." Duarte Vitorino rose from the recliner. "And Miss Karla Lupa. How marvelous to see you."


With a glance, Miri noted Henry was a little relieved to see his employer alive. She took in the sight of the Lusitanian Trade Minister herself. The detail that leapt to her attention was not his expensive house robe and pants, but the bandaging around the crown of his head. "I see you survived the bombing," Henry said, looking at the bandaging as well. "I'm pleased to hear it."

"I'm gratified to hear so, Captain," Vitorino said. "It was a stroke of luck. The bomb meant for the address podium fizzled. I got away with a blow to the head. My fellow ministers were not so lucky."

Miri noted that wording. "Then you are the only surviving member of the Cabinet," she said.

Vitorino nodded. "I am, Miss Lupa. There’s only about a hundred surviving Assembly members out of six hundred and twenty, and many of them are gravely wounded. This means no quorum until we can hold new elections, and even a snap election will take time. We won't be having a proper Cabinet assembled for some time. The President has seen fit to appoint me as the government's caretaker Prime Minister until elections can be held." He walked up to her and offered his hand. "You’re the survivor from the Kensington Star. A pleasure. We've been wondering about these disappearances for quite some time."

"Then you need wonder no further," Miri said, staring at him directly in the eyes. "I will testify as to what I saw. It was a cruiser of the League of Sol that took my ship and my fellow crew. I have a history with the League, so I spaced myself in the slim hope of rescue. Otherwise, they would have spaced me anyway, without a suit."

"Ah." Vitorino nodded. "We'll record your full statement momentarily. As this is state business, I don't want to keep Captain Henry any longer. I've heard his ship needs repairs."

"It does," Henry said, observing Vitorino’s response.

Vitorino walked over and retrieved the digital reader he'd been using earlier. He tapped at the display. Henry's commlink chimed, and he gave it a once over. Miri noticed a faint smile cross Henry's face while he touched the acceptance of the transfer. "Very generous of you."

"It’s what I promised, and what the late Cristina Caetano offered on top." Vitorino chuckled, even as Henry showed no strong reaction to what he said. "Yes, Captain, I'm well aware of what she did. Hiring you by threatening the Reverend Rothbard and his brother, your friend Felix. I assure you that I've already ordered the surveillance of his mission ended. Your old friend is free to minister to his flock among my people." He reached to the table and picked up a glass with something dark red in it, likely wine. He took a slow drink from it. "I’m even considering making a contribution from my personal funds to the Faith Outreach Mission. A gesture to show the people my faith in Reverend Rothbard's non-political nature."

Henry put his commlink away. "Thanks. I'm sure Jules will appreciate it. Is there anything else?"

"Nothing, Captain," Vitorino said. "I hear you have repair work to continue, and now you have the funds to see it through. I'll let you know if I have any jobs for you soon. Since your ship cannot leave until the lockdown is over, I encourage you and your crew to take the time to relax."

"I'll take that under advisement," Henry replied. "We've had quite a lot of trouble since leaving Harron."

Vitorino responded to his remark with a knowing nod. As Henry turned to go, Miri put a hand on his arm. "Thank you for saving me on Harron, Captain, and for seeing me through harm's way to safety." She smiled gently for his benefit. "And while I know it's a sore spot for you, well, as I hear the CDF tradition goes… Godspeed, Captain Henry. Godspeed to you and the others."

Henry's expression froze for a moment, and his eyes fell. Finally, he nodded slowly. "Right. It's a sore spot, but I'll take that in the spirit offered. Godspeed, ma'am." With that, he walked out of the room. One of the guards closed it from behind.

"Please, sit," said Vitorino, gesturing towards a chair. "Mister Carvalho will get us a state-encrypted recorder, and then we will get to work."

Breach of Faith

Henry walked out of the Royal Lusitanian, not sure how he should feel. It was, to put it simply, annoying.

By all rights, he should be ecstatic. Vitorino's payment, in the end, exceeded ten million escudos worth of Interstellar Bank credits. He'd wiped out all of the job's losses in costs so far and gave Henry an operational reserve that would cover the remaining repairs, give everyone a couple of months’ worth of pay, and provide Henry a cushion until this damn lockdown ended. In every way, Vitorino exceeded expectations as an employer.

Why, then, did Henry feel these doubts? This sour taste on the whole thing?

Because it means he's buying me, Henry pondered. Has bought me. I'm so grateful right now that I don't care he's become the leader of his planet through a lot of bloodshed and one hell of a lucky break. Maybe too lucky.

It was not a thought Henry wanted to have. Vitorino never struck him as the type to seek political power. He enjoyed wealth and business too much for the nitty-gritty of interstellar power politics, which Lusitania's relative wealth and position in the Trifid Region made necessary. It would interfere with his life of luxury.

But yet, it still seemed too convenient.

After recovering his pistol from the security woman at the door, Henry left the parking area of the hotel's front side and stepped onto the sidewalk lining this section of the Rua de Republica. The traffic was still light. It would probably be some time before a taxi came by on its own. Henry decided to call one up and pulled out his commlink. Its screen lit up a moment before he could use it himself. It was Felix's comm code showing. He hit the accept button on the screen and put the speaker by his ear. "Henry here."

"Hey, Jim. I just got a call from Jules. He says the creepy surveillance car pulled away from the mission barely half an hour ago. Now there's a government report on the local net clearing his mission of intelligence links."

"The deal's done, then," Henry said. Despite his best effort, he couldn't give his voice the full relief he felt it should have. If anything, he knew he sounded uncertain.

Felix, predictably, picked up on that. "What's wrong?"

"I'm just feeling paranoid," Henry said. "What's our status on the repairs?"

"Pieter's already left with Tia and Samina to pick things up from the spaceport suppliers. I'm hoping our budget can take the hit for all the fuses and wiring he says we need to repair from that EMP. Honestly, I'm not sure about taking the kid with them. She's still getting her legs for terra firma."

"It's good experience," Henry said. "Anyway, I'll be on my way back shortly. Just have to get a ride. Not a lot of traffic out today."

"Alright. I'm going to order us some deliveries myself. And since we're planetbound until the lockdown's over, I'm getting real beer this time."

Henry chuckled. "I guess I can drink to that. Talk to you later." He ended the call and started checking for a taxi service. His usual picks weren’t available, and the helicar services were grounded until further notice, so he finally went for the one that seemed to be closest. The service's systems confirmed his call and informed him the vehicle was on the way.

It wasn't hard to spot the blue-liveried taxi anti-grav car as it came down the road, anti-gravs whirring away. It pulled up to the curb, and the rear door opened. Henry slid into the seat and reached for the harness.

"So you are the captain of the Shadow Wolf," a voice said beside him.

Startled, Henry turned toward his fellow passenger. His surprise turned to cold fear at the barrel of the pulse gun pointed at his chest.

The gunman was in uniform, one that Henry had only seen a few times. A small, sinister smile crossed his face. "We have not met," the man said in accented English. "I am Commander Chantavit Li."

"League External Security," Henry said. "Let me guess, you're the League's top intel guy on-world, huh?"

"I am. You should feel gratified that I decided to handle this personally," Li said. "But you have become quite the annoyance, Captain Henry, and a message must be sent."

Fear started to turn into panic. Henry fought to keep it down. "I'm guessing it's the kind of message where my body's found in the river?"

Li laughed. "Oh, it's gone far beyond that, Captain, quite far beyond that." He frowned deeply. "Your entire crew has crossed the will of Society, and for that, we're going to kill every single one of you."

Breach of Faith

Miri was quiet as Carvalho set up the state recorder. It looked like any normal market holo-recorder, but on it would be the markings to say it was a dedicated model that made specialized encrypted recordings. This encryption was a sort of signature, informing anyone who cared to look that the contents were authentic and not a fabrication.

"I would offer you a glass," Vitorino said as he poured himself more wine. "If not for obvious reasons."

"I understand," Miri said quietly. She looked to the recorder. "I am ready."

"As are we," Carvalho said. "What is your name?"

"Karla Lupa," said Miri. "I was—am, a hand on the vessel Kensington Star out of New Cornwall, belonging to Patterson & Yarborough Shipping."

"Your ship disappeared," Carvalho said. "What has happened to it?"

"It was attacked by a Rand-class cruiser of the League of Sol. It employed some form of EMP weapon."

At that point, Miri discussed her escape and rescue by the Tokarevs, then her experience on Harron. She spoke carefully and with a deliberate monotone. It made her sound almost robotic.

"And how did you get here today?"

Miri adopted the same tone and used precise wording, covering in brief her trip aboard the Shadow Wolf. As she spoke, she noted Vitorino's quiet interest, the way he drank his wine, and how his eyes appeared almost glazed over.

When she was done, Carvalho glanced his boss. There was a slight frustration in his eyes, but he said nothing. When Vitorino nodded once, as if uncaring, Carvalho said, "We will need more."

"What do you need?" Miri inquired, keeping her tone level.

"I suppose we can start with explaining why you spaced yourself," Carvalho said. "It sounds reckless, even suicidal, unless you had an expectation of rescue."

"I did not." Miri watched the look in Carvalho's eyes intensify at her monotone reply. "Before we continue, may I ask something?"

Carvalho again consulted Vitorino with a look. There was a glint of something like amusement in the Prime Minister's eye, so he turned his head back to Miri. "You may."

"Thank you." Miri glanced at Vitorino. This time, her voice was not monotone but pure ice. "Prime Minister, just what deal did you make with the League of Sol to take over Lusitania?"

Carvalho's eyes widened at Miri's words. Indeed, they seemed almost panicked as he looked to Vitorino again.

Vitorino's response was to take another drink of wine quietly. He spent several seconds savoring it while Miri watched, her eyes intent on him. He swallowed and smiled at her while setting his wine glass down on the crystal table. "I can't say I'm surprised, Miss Gaon," he said, his English accented and smooth. "You live up to your reputation as the brilliant operative who saved the Coalition." He snapped his fingers, and his bodyguards all drew and leveled weapons at Miri. "It’s rather clear you didn't trust my recorder."

"It is not hard to fake an encrypted recorder," Miri replied, returning to the dull monotone while her eyes moved around to take in the bodyguards threatening her. She fought down her fear at the genuine likelihood she was going to be spaced by the League after all. "But you cannot make a convincing fake without an accurate and extensive voice sample."

"Indeed not. Mister Carvalho, you may as well put it away for now. I'm sure Commander Li will be able to get the sample we need."

Carvalho reached up and switched off the machine. He glared at Miri while he started folding up its legs.

Miri finished a visual sweep of the room before turning her attention to Vitorino again. "Whatever they've promised you, they'll never let you stay in power," she said, suspecting it would be for naught anyway. "You're not a devotee of Society. You're the very incarnation of the kind of person they hate. They're only using you and will shoot you at the earliest opportunity."

Vitorino folded his hands in his lap. "Of course, Miss Gaon. I'm not blind to them. But at the same time, I'm not blind to the challenge they face." He retrieved his wine glass and drank from it. "You and I share that. A certain perceptiveness. I admit I underestimated yours a little. I'm guessing my inability to turn down my fine port hinted at my lack of a head wound?"

"It did, but your condition helped." Miri didn't dare move. The slightest movement and Vitorino's people would gun her down without a qualm. "You don't have any signs of severe head injuries that would demand a bandage still be on your head this long after the bombing. The ship disappearances, the timing of the attack, and your miraculous survival hinted to a larger design. I doubt there was ever a bomb where you stood. More likely a portable forcefield generator. They're not feasible for constant use, but you can have one active for several seconds if you're planning to survive a terrible incident, like, say, a bombing."

"Mostly correct," Vitorino said. "In truth, it wasn't my plan. Just so we're being honest. I hijacked it for my own purposes. As I said, we're both rather perceptive." He took another drink of wine. "Would you like some?" he asked. "I won't have it said I denied a condemned person a chance to enjoy at least one fine luxury before her end."

"I stay away from alcohol," Miri answered.

"Ah, yes, I suppose you would, given your occupation."

With complete self-honesty, Miri replied, "No, it's because I might want it too much."

Vitorino chuckled. "That is what I meant, Traitor of Lowery. They still call you that name there, don't they? You enabled their liberation, and half the planet still hates you."

"I caused the deaths of some of their loved ones. Others were taken away to the Orion Arm and never seen again." Miri tried to keep the pain from her face. "Their hatred is earned."

"So it is. Well, if you don't want to indulge, I won't force the issue," he said, as if he were a congenial host and not her captor. "As I was saying, I'm well aware the League won't keep me around if they can get rid of me. I doubt Commander Li realizes I know this, but Hartford might."

"Hartford?" The name blazed through Miri's mind. "Admiral Hartford?"

"He’s the one. The man whose grand plan to seize New Arabia and break the Coalition's morale failed, all because you warned the CDF where and when the attack was coming," Vitorino said. "He has another plan in mind, but like all of his kind, he grossly underestimates the Coalition's people." Vitorino took another drink. "Oh, he's not wrong about the outcome. The Coalition is going to lose the war in due time, Miss Gaon. For all of your bravery and technological skill, the League's too big. It has too many people, too many resources. It'll defeat you in the end. What they don't realize is how hollow their victory will be." He chuckled. "They think that as soon as your government surrenders, the resistance to their forces will cease. That your populations will give up, report to the Socialization camps, and accept the Society as their future. They don't understand your belief in your freedoms, your ways of life and religions. The Coalition will lose, and maybe after a few decades or a century, your worlds will be so broken by the occupations, you'll give up. But the League will take even longer to find the strength to fight the rest of us."

Miri nodded. "You intend to use the fall of the Coalition to rally the neutral worlds against the League."

"With the Saurians too. Assuming they don't enter the war at some point and prolong it even further," Vitorino replied. "You should feel happy, though. Your worlds may fall, and your Coalition may collapse, but the League will choke on you. In the end, they may even have to withdraw from Sagittarius." He took yet another sip. "After our lifetimes, that is. Especially yours."

There was a knock on the door. Moments later, it was opened by Vitorino's people on the outside. More armed figures arrived, four in all. While their weapons and uniforms were Lusitanian Security, the way they carried themselves gave them away to Miri.

"Ah, my good friends from the League," said Vitorino. He gestured toward Miri with his free hand. "Gentlemen and lady, may I present Miriam Gaon. My gift to your Commander Li and Admiral Hartford. Please let the Commander know we still need a viable voice sample for the recording."

"Understood, Prime Minister," one of the men said, his English sounding vaguely Australian to Miri's ears. He gestured to his people. Two stepped forward. Under their guns and those of Vitorino's soldiers, Miri had no opening to resist as they forced her arms behind her back and bound her wrists with a tie strap.

"Aren't you worried I'll share our conversation with them?" Miri asked Vitorino directly.

He shrugged. "Go ahead. You're the Traitor of Lowery, who tricked the League's Resocialization Bureau into thinking you were properly Socialized. I doubt they'll think much of your attempts to split us." He took another drink of wine and glanced away, signaling their conversation was at an end.

The League operatives each took Miri by one arm and led her out of the room.


Henry's eyes moved up and down, from the barrel of the gun to Li's face. His eyes burned with zealous anger. This guy's a true believer, Henry thought to himself. More than the Third Class Inspector back on New Hathwell. He recognized that he was alive only because Li had a bigger plan in store. It gave him time. "It was just a job," Henry said. "We were hired to get our passenger back to Lusitania."

"Do you believe that matters?" Li shook his head once. "You would. It's typical of your people. You're all short-sighted, arrogant, and foolish. You don't grasp anything beyond your immediate wants."

"So we were just supposed to surrender?" Henry asked. "Just like that?"

"Just like that." Li shook his head. "The… individualism in this galactic arm never ceases to disgust me. You're all a bunch of animals, hurting and killing each other for baubles."

Li spoke the word “individualism” like the foulest word in the English language. Henry wanted to keep him talking, so he asked, "What's wrong with being an individual?"

"You might as well ask me what's wrong with murder," Li said. "That's what individualism is."

Henry, despite everything, found this comment interesting. Then again, all of my previous experience with the League was either fighting them or bribing them. "Just because I see myself as an individual doesn't mean I want to murder people."

"Doesn't it?" Li asked. "That's the truth about being 'an individual.' An individual is insignificant. Nothing more but a pile of urges and drives to be satiated while the reason, if it exists, cowers in terror at the inevitably of death. The individual is a hollow shell desperate to find something to fill the vacuum within."

Li spoke the words with barely restrained fury. Henry wondered where the anger came from. Before he could reply, Li continued as if only his words mattered. "Some of you ignore that hollow feeling. You embrace material wants and desires in your desperation to fill in the void. You became little more than voracious beasts, gorging yourselves until your appetites cannot be satiated, then the hollowness returns. And you go on, demanding more and more, to ignore the truth of your own insignificance."

Henry didn't say anything. For one thing, the longer Li spoke, the more time he had to figure out something, so why interrupt? For the other, he knew then he was in the presence of a True Believer 1st Class, someone to whom the League's ideology was set into the very marrow of his bones, such that he resented the refusal of the universe to bow before the blindingly-obvious truth he felt burning within him.

"And some of you instead turn to superstitions from millennia ago," Li continued, harshness in his voice. "What was once used by the unadvanced humanity of the old ages to explain the things their feeble science couldn't, you use to fill the void within, convincing yourself in the truth of those superstitions. You look to religion to give your meager lives direction. Purpose. Anything to fill the shell."

A retort formed and came from Henry's throat before he could stop himself. "You resent the competition, huh?" Li's nostrils flared at that, and for a moment, Henry thought he'd pull the trigger out of sheer anger.

Bad move, Jim. Never provoke fanatics.

After considering lunging for the gun, Henry decided to continue the safer course of biding time. "I'll take that back. Thing is, I'm not religious myself anymore, but I know plenty of people who still are that're good people."

Li laughed. "That's what the superstitious always say. They're good people, they love other beings. It's all lies, of course. The history of religion is ignorance, torture, and mass murder. It's a blight on humanity."

"You think you're better, even with all of the torture and murder the League's pulled?" Henry asked. He felt offended, if just for the sake of Jules and Vidia and men like Reverend Gill, the head of his family's church in Tylerville.

"We are," Li hissed. "Religion's a lie, and you know this deep down. You know your superstition for what it is. So the hollowness continues to gnaw and demand material pleasures to satisfy your urges. After all, look at yourself." When Henry glared, Li shook his head. "You were religious once, as you've said, and your record confirms. Then you were cast out. You could have taken up the cause of the workers and poor of your Coalition. You could have worked to make their lives better. Instead, all you thought about was your own happiness. Now look at you. Just another spacer fighting for scraps in the neutral worlds, bribing and smuggling and killing to earn a few measly credits. No greater cause, no higher purpose, nothing but your individual needs."

Henry couldn't keep the angry look from his face. His lips curled into a snarl. "You don't know shit about me, Leaguer."

"I know all I need to," Li said, his voice confident. He spoke with the tone of a man finally giving vent to pent-up feelings. "You're no better than the other individualist filth out here in this barbaric arm of the Galaxy. It sickens me to see human beings live as you do."

"Right," Henry scoffed. "In fact, I'm willing to bet your hands have way more blood on them than mine."

"I fight for a true cause!" Li retorted angrily. If there'd been a driver in the front seat, the ferocity of the shout might have startled them into a crash. "I fight for something better than petty individualist desires! I fight for Society!"

"And that’s supposed to be noble?"

Li nodded. "It is! We of the Society have found the only way to overcome the deficiencies of the individual. We fill the hollowness with Social awareness. Instead of being an insignificant speck in an uncaring universe, a person becomes a part of a greater whole. Their need for fulfillment comes from finding their place in Society and working, always working, to make it a better place. Instead of needing satisfaction for their base instincts, they find it in bonding with others. The weakness of the individual is swept away by the strength and unity of Society. And while death will still come for them, they can face the end of existence content in the knowledge that Society continues."

Henry swallowed. Not at the gun now quaking in the hand of a zealot, but at the sheer feverish force behind Li's diatribe. There was no room for doubt in it. He was a man who'd found his faith, a faith blinding in its purity. He believed in the League and its society with a devotion that matched, yet contrasted, the gentle warmth of Jules Rothbard's.

As aggravating as Jules' faith could be, it was tempered by kindness and compassion for other beings. Jules believed in a God of love and acted in that respect. Li's faith wasn't in a god or spirit but in an idea, the idea of humanity—indeed, of all sapient life—bound to an all-encompassing unity that stripped it of all individual thought and belief. Stripped not just of their individuality, but of hope, compassion, and love, anything that might distract from the soul-consuming devotion the machine demanded.

This was the difference between them. Jules wanted a galaxy where everyone lived in peace and brotherhood, and none went hungry because of the love in their hearts. Li wanted a galaxy where everyone lived in peace and brotherhood because they were molded and hammered into those places by a system devoid of love. A galaxy of beings reduced to cogs in a machine, with pain and death for any who dared question their place in that machine.

Henry's thoughts were interrupted by Li, shaking with his anger now being spent. "That's the truth that we came to the Sagittarius Arm to bring, Captain. When we’re done, none of your superstitious madness or self-centered prattle about 'freedom' will matter. Even if it takes us decades, centuries, of war, nothing will stop us from bringing you all into the glory of Society."

Henry whistled and shook his head, the reply surprising Li. "You're about the most arrogant man I think I've ever met."

"And you are the most foolish," Li said. "Now…" There was a tone from within his uniform jacket. He pulled out a commlink and spoke into it. "I am busy, what… ah, excellent." He grinned widely. "Excellent. Bring her to the embassy security offices. We will get the voice sample needed during her interrogation. And begin launch preparations for my ship."

"A pleasure trip?" Henry asked.

"Oh, Social duty as always for me, Captain," Li replied. "My people have Miri Gaon in custody." A wide smile formed on his face. "If anything, this should demonstrate the futility of your actions. Despite everything, the League has prevailed. As it always will."

Breach of Faith

The Leaguers brought Miri to the cargo elevator leading to the kitchen and receiving area for the hotel. Before boarding, they frisked her for weapons, for anything she could use, and found nothing despite the intensity of the search. The frisking ended right as the elevator doors slid open. She was forced inside. The neutral look on her face was a trained one, and her guards weren't fooled. She was calculating her chances of escaping. "Don't even think about it," the Australian-accented one hissed at her. "We'll break you if you try."

She didn't reply.

Her chances weren't good. Once off the elevator, they'd be even worse. Here, the close quarters could work to her advantage even against trained foes. On the other hand, her wrists were bound behind her back, severely limiting her tactical options.

However poor her chances, she'd not have a better opportunity. She had to act now.

The car was seconds away from passing the third floor when she acted. She dropped low and stuck her foot out in a sweeping kick, not an easy thing without her arms able to help balance the move, applying enough force to bruise her right shin and knock the two guards behind her to the floor. The guards in front turned to react. With her body still crouched from the sweeping kick, Miri lowered her head and pointed it toward the Australian-speaker, who was standing beside the controls. She lunged forward by jumping off with her legs. Her head registered pain from the impact, but the agonized cry from the head Leaguer from her skull slamming between his legs said she'd inflicted more damage than she'd caused herself.

In the span of a few seconds, she'd given herself a brief window with one-on-one odds. That left the last guard still standing and her gun already rising to point at Miri. She literally had a second to react. With a grunt, she lowered her shoulder and charged.

The gun went off a moment after Miri's shoulder slammed into the gun-holding arm. The blast was not a powerful one, as the Leaguers had their weapons set to non-lethal levels, but it still sufficed to fry the control panel. The elevator's safety systems kicked in and stopped them at the nearest floor, the second.

The doors slid open.

Miri hadn't planned this. She hadn't dared to. But she wasn't going to miss her good fortune. She darted out of the elevator and into the second floor's service area.

Rows of open cabinets showed white sheets and towels stacked for delivering to rooms while the distant sound of a large washer continued its churning. She kept running while behind her the Leaguers took off in pursuit. Her heart pounded, and her mind raced. She didn't know this hotel at all, and there were few details from the upper floor to tell her of where to find what. Her options were quite limited, and she looked everywhere, brain churning to locate more.

Her first lucky break was a cleaning cart for the service personnel. She turned long enough to kick it in the direction of her pursuers. The kick was off slightly, causing the cart to wobble along before the top-weight of its supplies led to it toppling over onto its side. By then, Miri had already turned around and continued running, so she didn't see this worked in her favor, tripping up the closest Leaguer and forcing the others to slow to go around her and the mess.

When Miri found the door to the general area of the floor, it slid open on its own, presumably set that way for the convenience of the staff. The tiled floor gave way to the lush carpeting from before. Her footfalls were effectively dampened by this, but at the same time, so were those of her pursuers.

Her options were still too limited. She wanted to get her hands free, but the tie strap was expertly applied. She needed a sharp object and quite a bit of time, or wire-cutters. Getting out of the hotel would also be a problem. With Vitorino working for the League, his security people would be hunting for her as well. The longer she stayed on the property, the more certain her re-capture.

Desperation immediately suggested an option: get to the nearest window and try to jump out. From the second floor, she could roll with the landing and maybe escape without harming herself too severely. But I will have to hit the window at full speed to break through. I'm going to get cut up. They could follow my blood trail.

Miri turned a corner in the interior hall and spotted just such a window, one of the few not in a room. It looked to be her only shot, so she started to run and spied the open door of one of the suites.

There was no telling why it was open. If it was one of Vitorino's security people making a standard sweep, she’d be in trouble. If it was just one of the cleaning crew working, however, she might get a few precious minutes.

She gambled. Whispering a prayer under her breath for it to work out, Miri nearly plunged into the room. As soon as she cleared the door, she used her foot to shut it, hoping her pursuers were far back enough they hadn't seen her enter. She took in a breath and moved further into the suite.

It was a smaller one than Vitorino's, with just a couple of bedrooms off of the main room and attached kitchen efficiency. Miri spotted a cleaning cart at the entrance to one of the bedrooms and went for the kitchen. Now that her heart wasn't pounding quite so loudly in her ears, she heard the vacuum cleaner whirring away, coming from the same area. That prompted a breathed thanks to HaShem on her way to the kitchen.

Once there, Miri slid open one of the drawers beside the sink. She twisted her head and looked down, moving as quickly as she could to check the contents. At the sight of various cooking utensils with nothing sharp in their number, Miri sighed and slid the drawer closed. She went over to the next and found standard silverware.

The vacuum cleaner stopped. Her heart skipped even as her fingers found purchase on the drawer under the silverware drawer. At the sound of the cleaner resuming, she sighed in relief and pulled the drawer open. She twisted and looked down.

This time, she was in luck. A small, neat pile of steak knives were in an organizer tray.

Miri reached in and picked one of the knives up in her hands before pushing the drawer closed with her hip. Immediately, she ducked low, ensuring that the cleaning staff in the bedroom couldn't see her if they came out. She twisted the knife in her hands and moved it until she felt the tension of the blade, pushing against resistance between her wrists. With the sharp edge against the cord, she started cutting.

So far, so good. She didn’t dare to do more than breathe silent thanks to HaShem at help she'd long considered herself undeserving of. Crouched and hoping to evade notice from the cleaning staff still present, Miri focused herself on cutting her wrists free. Come on, come on.


Outside of the taxi he was being held hostage in, Henry watched the sights of Gamavilla pass by. The helicab was taking him and his captor toward the spaceport. Henry imagined Li had a plan involving more than himself. "My crew's not going to surrender for me," he said. "They'll fight."

"They won't have the chance," Li said. "And you'll get to see—"

Before he could finish, Li's commlink started trilling. While he kept his gun firmly pointed at Henry with his left hand, he pulled the commlink out with his right. "Report." His face twisted in fury. "I do not care for excuses," he hissed. "Find her. Find her, or I will personally have you denounced as an anti-Social saboteur, do you understand? I want that—"

There’ll never be a better time. Without a second of hesitation, Henry lunged for the gun.

For all that Li's eyes were on him, his focus had been diverted by his fury at the caller. It cost him a vital second before his finger squeezed the trigger. The pulse blast didn't hit Henry's chest as it would have otherwise. It barely seared his shoulder, in fact, before slamming into the side of the interior, where it set fire to the upholstered surface.

Li dropped the commlink, snarling and struggling to bring his gun back over as Henry forced it further away. His right arm came up, and his elbow slammed into Henry's face along the left side of his face, right at the jaw.

The impact hurt and nearly stunned Henry, but he had both hands on Li's gun-hand and continued pressing him against the side of the taxi. He ignored the second blow from the elbow and only growled in frustration before Li's free hand went for his throat.

Henry's body protested the sudden constriction of his airway. He fought the instinctive urge to pull his hands back to protect his throat, since that would free the gun, and he would die. Instead, he pressed himself further against the intelligence agent, bringing Li's left hand over enough that he started to smack it against the side of the taxi. When that failed after the third blow, he twisted to plant his knee onto Li's thigh and used the leverage to begin twisting his wrist.

With a savage look in his eyes, Li's head shot forward. Henry watched his mouth open and felt the pain as the Leaguer's teeth bit into Henry's left wrist. He let out a choked cry at the sensation as the teeth broke through his skin. Blood welled up around Li's lips as pain weakened the grip in Henry's left hand. While his right hand kept its grip, he wasn't able to apply the pressure to twist further, and Li kept his death grip on his pistol.

With his lungs screaming for air and stars in his vision from the reduced oxygen, Henry desperately swapped tactics. He drew his left hand back and reached for his holster, which was on his right hip. Having to draw across his body cost him time.

Time which allowed Li to recognize what he was doing. Faced with Henry bringing his pistol into the fight, Li released his grip on Henry's throat. His right hand went for Henry's left wrist just as he started bringing his Danfield-Colt up.

Henry tried and failed to force his hand further over so he could get a shot. Li was doing the same with his left hand, but he couldn't quite budge it, given Henry's grip with his right.

This left their struggle in a stalemate. Neither could get their weapon to bear on the other. It would come down to which of them tired first.

Or would have, rather, if another vehicle hadn't crashed into the taxi first.

The impact spun the vehicle around and briefly sent Henry flying into Li. Their foreheads collided. The collision robbed Henry of coherent thought for a moment as his head reeled. He was thrown back to his side of the taxi not by Li, but by the taxi's safety systems forcing the vehicle back onto the road.

Through it all, he still had a grip on his gun. He swung it up toward Li's head just in time for the other man’s pistol to swing up toward his temple. They might have shot each other dead if the taxi hadn’t lurched again, this time struck from the side. Their arms flailed, disrupting the aim of both men.

The aircar stopped this time. Henry realized it as he brought his hands up and shoved Li away. From the front, an automated voice spoke in Portuguese. "For safety reasons, please exit the vehicle. We have been in a collision. For safety reasons…" As it spoke, the doors opened automatically.

Henry had a second to make his decision. Stay in the vehicle and wrestle with Li, or try to escape. He decided it was high time to make his getaway. He fell backward from the vehicle and felt grass crunch below his back. Turning, he brought his legs over and free of the taxi door so he could roll onto his knees while starting to stand.

Inside the taxi, Li began to recover. He snarled and raised his gun at Henry.

Henry rolled to the back of the taxi, avoiding the shot. The energy blast scourged the cement stairs of a small business building behind him. The momentum of the roll gave him a boost to scramble back to his feet. As he did, the soft whirring of anti-grav motors became evident. He glanced to the side and noted a blue-colored aircar already pulling up. The door on the passenger side opened, and Henry saw al-Lahim at the controls. "Get in, now," he shouted.

There was no point in resisting. Henry needed to be gone, now, and al-Lahim offered him the best chance of it. Without protest, he got in the car. The Arabic man triggered the forward throttle and the vehicle's motors changed pitch. It shot ahead, leaving two wrecked taxi cabs behind it.

"You hacked another taxi?" Henry asked.

"I have my ways," said al-Lahim. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the road ahead. "I knew something was up when the League activated their hack into the city heli-taxi systems. We've known they had a way in for some time, so we were monitoring." He turned the wheel and brought them down a side street. In the distance, the high-pitched sirens of the Gamavilla police service's vehicles were wailing. "Is Li still alive?"

"Hurt but alive. He took a shot at me and almost hit," Henry said.

"Damn." Al-Lahim shook his head. "He's got a reputation for black ops. I knew he was trouble the moment the League assigned him here."

"He's also a zealot. Not exactly the corrupt League types I'm used to."

"Which makes him truly dangerous, and makes it clear that the League has a major operation going on here." Al-Lahim shook his head and pursed his lips together.

"Well, I'd say the bombing was a good indicator of that," Henry grumbled. Even as he said it, he frowned. "Vitorino. Something doesn't feel right." Now that he was out of danger, Henry thought back to the meeting with Vitorino, and how he left Miri. He blinked and glanced at al-Lahim. "Major, the CIS; you're pretty different from the CDF, aren't you?"

"Greatly," al-Lahim said. "You’re the white knights of the Coalition, out in the open. We… are not."

"In the CDF, they always wish each other Godspeed, especially before missions. Do you?"

Al-Lahim laughed, then briefly diverted his attention to another turn onto an even quieter street. He slowed the vehicle as they passed a police officer on foot patrol. Al-Lahim quietly eyed the man, but he barely gave their vehicle a glance before looking away. "Never," he said. "The things we do, Captain Henry; sometimes we do things we'd rather not have on our souls. We certainly don't want to bring God into it. It’s considered something of a bad sign to say 'Godspeed' or to invoke God to each other. It feels like we're tempting Him." He turned his head toward Henry. "Why do you ask?"

He frowned deeply. "Because Miri said it before I left her with Vitorino." Henry shook his head. "Talked about it being CDF tradition. Like she was invoking the old days for me, even mentioned how sensitive it was to me." Henry turned to see al-Lahim's expression darken. "Shit," he muttered.

"She was warning you. Something's wrong." Al-Lahim hit the blinker and abruptly turned them onto another road. "The Royal Lusitanian, right?"

"Right." Henry reached for his commlink. "I'd better—"

"No!" Al-Lahim snatched the commlink from Henry's hand. He triggered the device's power button and threw it into the back seat. "The League's tracking your link. I don't want them to know where we are."

"I need to warn my crew!" Henry shouted. "Li wants them dead!"

"I've got people watching things at the spaceport," al-Lahim assured him. "Right now, Operative Gaon needs us. After all, I hired you to bring her to me, remember? Not to the damned Lusitanians!"

"I didn't know Karla Lupa and Miri Gaon were the same person when you hired me," Henry retorted. He let out a sigh. "Besides, that place is crawling with Lusitanian State Security. We'd need a Marine company to get in there."

"Knowing Miri Gaon's reputation, Captain, we only need to be nearby," al-Lahim answered confidently.

Breach of Faith

Cutting the tie-strap took Miri a couple of nerve-racking minutes. Bit by bit, the teeth of the knife went through the sturdy plastic, until finally, she felt it give way enough that she pulled her wrists free.

Her success meant more tactical options. At the same time, she'd lost precious minutes in getting out of the building. Lusitanian security would augment her pursuers easily. Even if she successfully acquired a firearm, she’d eventually be overrun.

The sound of the vacuum ended in the far bedroom. Miri ducked in the kitchen, putting the efficiency's shelf, including the range, between herself and the rest of the suite. She heard the slight whine of a light anti-grav unit draw closer for several seconds before it started moving away to the other side of the room. She glimpsed long enough to see a maid enter the separate bedroom.

Since she didn't want to risk problems with the security personnel still searching the floor for her, Miri went into the now-vacated bedroom. To her delight, the windows were large enough for her to fit through. She moved the curtain and blinds enough to look outside. The room faced an alleyway between the hotel and an adjacent structure, a block-shaped commercial building. She didn't see anyone in the alley yet, but it was only a matter of time.

Miri looked to the bed and started yanking the sheets and comforter off. She felt a brief pang of guilt for the poor maid who’d probably be blamed for not spotting her, while she tied the corners of the sheets together and then one end to the comforter. She secured the other end of the comforter to the leg of a nightstand beside the window.

She glanced out the window once more. There was still no sign of anyone from security. It was now or never.

The window was a casement model that allowed easy exfiltration. She undid the latch and pushed it open, then dislodged the screen covering and pulled it into the room. With a final glimpse to assure herself that she wouldn't be dropping into a waiting foe, Miri slipped out of the window, one hand firmly on her bedding-made rope. She let the other end fall downward while maneuvering to put her other hand on it. She started lowering herself, going as quickly as she could until she felt the end of the rope. She dropped the last meter onto the concrete below her.

She started walking down the alley, away from Rua de Republica, and toward the minor avenue she saw down at the other end of the lane. As she walked, she assessed her situation. She was out of the hotel but not out of danger. A manhunt would be ordered as soon as anyone spotted the open window and the bedding rope hanging from it. When it came to resources, she only had the steak knife for self-defense. She had no commlink, no access to money, electronic or otherwise, and she would soon be wanted across the planet. Her only hope, she imagined, was to find a way to slip into the Coalition Embassy without being seen.

"Stop!" she heard a voice cry out from behind her in accented English.

Miri started running. She didn't bother to look back at her pursuer, and she leaned forward to present a smaller target. The first shot sent her way missed. So did the second.

Then her left leg burned, and the muscle seized up. In mid-stride as she was, this caused Miri to topple over. Her momentum caused her to roll on the ground until she ended up on her side. Frantically, she tried to stand again, but her left leg refused to move. She looked behind her to see a Lusitanian security agent running toward her, weapon raised. Her face contorted into a grimace, which hid her fear and despair. All of her efforts were for nothing.

And then, the anti-grav car pulled into the alleyway.

Both Miri and her pursuer glanced in the direction of the blue vehicle, its motors whirring away as it accelerated toward them. The agent raised his weapon and shouted, "State Security! Get out of the vehicle!"

Miri had an idea about what was going to happen. She rolled toward the side of the lane.

The car's engine picked up in pitch. The security operative fired. The bolts of energy slammed into the front of the vehicle. The shots dissipated against a thin film of blue light—an energy deflector. The next round did the same.

The agent finally tried to evade, but it was too late. The aircar slammed into him at waist level with enough force that he flew backward by at least six feet.

Miri was still struggling to stand when the rear driver's side door opened. "Get in!" she heard a voice call out. She winced at the pain in her left leg as she crawled into the floorboard and seat of the car. Even before she was fully inside, the vehicle started reversing. It didn’t make getting in easy.

Hands gripped her left arm and helped pull her in. Once they got her immobile left foot through the door, the driver triggered it to close. The vehicle almost immediately wheeled about, the anti-gravs humming louder as the car's systems shifted to regulate the maneuver and keep the aircar under control. Miri let out a breath of relief and looked up. "Captain?"

Henry nodded. "Hey," he said. There was a frown on his face. "You okay?"

"No," she said. "No, I am not." Miri drew in a breath before she used her arms to lift herself into the rear seat. She was close enough to the middle that she could see the driver's face reflected in the rear-view mirror. "Abdul."

"Miri," al-Lahim began. "It's good to see you safe."

"Thank you for coming for me," she said. Wincing in pain from the stun shot to her leg, Miri still forced herself to focus on putting the seat belt on, just in case. With that done, she could relax for the moment. "Vitorino's working for the League. The bombing is part of this whole scheme. To get him into power."

"It still feels off," Henry muttered.

Al-Lahim snorted. "What, that Vitorino's a corrupt man willing to work with the League?"

"Not that part," Henry said. "Two weeks ago, I was bribing a League customs inspector with a bottle of port on his behalf. But the political takeover part, a bloody coup, that's not Vitorino's usual style. He likes luxury and wealth more than power."

"He does," Miri agreed. "But he's a calculating man. He believes the Coalition can't win the war, and the best thing for Lusitania and the other neutral worlds to do is stand by and let the League win. Once it's bogged down by the inevitable grassroots resistance, then unite. He knows it's the only way they will survive a League victory."

"So if the League came to him with a scheme of some kind, probably aimed at us, he would go for it," al-Lahim said. "And he’d probably help our resistance forces too, just to keep the fire burning."

"Yes." Miri glanced at Henry, who seemed dour to her. I would be too, if I were him. "You may have worked for him, and you read him rather well, but I think you underestimated Vitorino a little, Captain."

Henry shook his head. "Tell me about it." He rubbed at his left hand.

Miri noticed a makeshift bandage around it. He's been in a fight too. "Well, the authorities will find us inevitably. We need to ditch the car."

"It won't be necessary," al-Lahim said. "I've already changed the ID code of the vehicle, and the surface color is a different shade now. It should trick the automated systems monitoring the road."

"Then we need to get to my ship," Henry began, his voice earnest. "Before the League can hurt my people. I'm still thinking how we're going to get off-planet before their defense forces shoot us down."

"I'll help you with that, Captain, trust me," al-Lahim replied with a grin. "Which is why we're making a stop before we go back to the spaceport."

"A stop?" Henry's voice betrayed his impatience. "Where?"

Al-Lahim flashed a broad smile. "The one place Vitorino will never expect to see us.”

Breach of Faith

The tone from his commlink prompted Vitorino to look up from the fleet readiness report he was examining. He reached over and picked the commlink up. The incoming call was labeled as a private one, so he tapped the accept key and put the speaker up to his ear. "Yes?" he asked.

"What kind of pathetic operation are your people running, Vitorino?" Li screamed from the other end. It was an unpleasant experience, but he didn’t react outwardly. "Not only did you let Gaon get away, your people can't even find the getaway vehicle!"

"They're investigating now," he said, his tone still quiet and controlled. "With the city under martial law, we'll find the car. As for letting Gaon get away…" His voice chilled. "Your people had her. They lost her. Like fools, they waited too long to warn my people. An earlier warning, and we would have had agents in the alley before she could escape the building. If you want someone to blame, Li, look elsewhere. Or shall I take the matter up with Admiral Hartford?" Silence reigned for just long enough that Vitorino wondered if Li ended the call rather than answer.

"I apologize for my outburst," was Li’s forced response.

"I accept the apology," Vitorino said, his voice again warm and friendly. "Now stop fretting. We're less than two weeks from our plan, and the news from Canaan shows our timing will be just right. What does Miri Gaon have that could stop us?"

"What about your spacer captain? He's working with someone! He was rescued!"

"If you'd done your part, there wouldn't have been anyone to rescue, would there?" Vitorino pointed out. He sighed. "I find it odd, after I made a point of letting him live… You insisted Captain Henry and his crew had to be eliminated, yet you were the one who couldn't pull the trigger!" He grinned at the angry hiss in Li's voice. The League operative's temper was up. "There’s nothing he can do about it either. We have the system on comms lockdown, and we will until the operation succeeds. Even if he warns the Coalition Embassy, they can't warn Canaan. Even if they did, the government there wouldn't dare to let anything interfere with a peace they desperately need."

"Do not underestimate him!"

"That was your failing, Li, not mine," Vitorino said. "I know full well his capabilities. His strengths and his weaknesses. Captain Henry is a pragmatic man. He knows when he's outmatched. Right now, his only concern will be getting his crew out of this situation and fleeing as far as he can from the Trifid Region. We should probably let him."

"You can't!" Li shouted. "He knows too much; his entire crew does! And they've humiliated us!"

"I've found a little humility keeps people honest," Vitorino replied flippantly. "Your League will be all the better for it. Now I have briefings to finish, and you should be leaving to join Admiral Hartford soon for the operation." His voice went icy again. "Don't let me detain you."

"Remember your place, Vitorino," Li retorted.

"You should remember yours." With that, Vitorino ended the call. He sat quietly for a moment before looking up to where Carvalho was reading another set of reports. "João, I need you to send a message to planetary command."

"Yes, Prime Minister?"

"If the Shadow Wolf lifts off without ministerial authorization, they are to be destroyed," Vitorino said.

Carvalho nodded. "Yes, Prime Minister," he repeated.

Vitorino looked away for a moment. A shame, Captain Henry. You were quite useful to me. But it would cost me far too much to let you and your crew go now. He pondered that thought, chuckled, and shook his head, and promptly returned to his reading material. It was time to check the Rand Stock Market figures. Trading would still be going on there for four more hours, and he liked both Lou Shipping and Rigault Heavy Industries stocks for his portfolio.


Henry stared in disbelief at al-Lahim's destination. "What the hell are we doing here?" he asked.

"Seeking sanctuary," al-Lahim said. "I've found a church is as good as a mosque."

Henry stepped out of the door and looked at the sight of the repaired Faith Outreach Mission. He started walking toward the front door while, behind him, al-Lahim helped Miri out of the car. A quick glance backward allowed him to see her limping. Her left leg was still immobile.

By the time he looked back to the door, it had opened. Jules stood in the doorway wearing his usual dark suit. "Jim," he said plainly. "It's good to see you."

Henry rushed ahead and pulled Jules with him into the mission. "What's going on?" he asked, his voice a hiss. "Are… are you seriously working with him?"

"I don't work for the Major," Jules said politely. "But this is a church, Jim. A house of God. Anyone in need of shelter is welcome here."

"Dammit, Jules, all of the trouble we just went through to keep you out of trouble!" Henry gave a small cry of frustration with his hands balled into fists. "You’re playing a dangerous game. These people don't give a damn about churches being sanctuaries!"

"That doesn't mean it's not; just that they'll answer to God for it," Jules replied evenly.

Before Henry could continue, the door opened. Al-Lahim entered with Miri. "Thank you, Reverend Rothbard," he said. "Inshallah, we won't trouble you much longer."

Jules nodded in acceptance of the promise and the conditional nature of it. "As I was telling Jim, this is God's house. I'm just the caretaker." Without another word, he came over and helped Miri to a pew. "You were shot?"

"Directed-energy weapon, a stun setting, I think." Miri grimaced as her hands rubbed at the inflexible, stiff muscles in her left thigh.

"I should have some relaxant in the infirmary," Jules said. "Let me get it."

As he hurried off, Henry took to the pew himself, giving Miri enough room to put her unmoving leg up on it for some comfort. The hymnal in the back of the seat ahead of him was the same edition as before, but a new printing. Curiosity prompted him to open it and see familiar hymns written in Portuguese and Arabic. He turned back and noted al-Lahim removing his shoes.

Al-Lahim walked over and came in from the other side of the pew to sit beside Henry. His eyes glanced over the interior. Matching the multi-denominational intent of the organization, the Mission was laid out without any definite leaning toward any specific Christian sect. There was even a nave in the side corner marked with Arabic calligraphy and a star chart projector. "I've looked over your record," he said.

"I'd imagine so."

"There are those in CIS who think there is more to what happened on the Laffey," al-Lahim said carefully. "Officers who are skeptical of the outcome."

Henry pursed his lips and shook his head. "I'm not saying anything," he said firmly.

"I understand. I just wanted you to know. In case you decide your silence has gone on long enough."

Henry kept his eyes intently away from al-Lahim. To do this, he focused attention on Jules' pulpit that he typically would never give. The wonder and warmth of a church he'd known as a child was gone.

Instead, all he felt was a cold uncertainty, and Li's words now echoed in his soul. The taunting remarks about it all being superstition, made by people who lacked the scientific knowledge to understand the world. Was that, in the end, all this was? Was all the death and suffering to protect one's faith a cosmic joke, the equivalent of a philosophical cargo cult fighting and dying over immaterial trinkets? His discussions with Vidia came back to him. His words. "If God's out there, he lost interest in humanity long ago," he mumbled to himself, while wondering which possibility was worse. A divine creator giving up on his creations out of frustration for their flaws? Or the entire thing being nothing but a made-up fable people continued to cling to for comfort.

Looking at the lovely wooden cross set into the wall behind the pulpit, just below the opening to display the baptismal behind it, Henry found he missed the old certainty that faith gave him. The belief there was a force of good in the universe, and all of the struggles and suffering in life were not in vain. Now all he had was the certainty that humanity and other forms of life were doomed to the same cycle of mistakes and sins.

He wanted to tear his eyes away anyway, and Jules gave him a reason when he returned, another figure in tow. This person walked with a slight limp as well as a bandaged head and arm. With Jules between them, he couldn't make out who. At least, not until they were close enough that Jules was no longer blocking his view.

"What the—" he managed before remembering he was in the house of God, and cursing was unacceptable.

"I see you're familiar with my best asset on-planet," al-Lahim said.

Henry's head whipped over to regard al-Lahim with widened eyes. "Your best asset?" he blurted out, shocked.

"I’m glad you've made it back to Lusitania safely, Captain Henry," said Cristina Caetano, her blue eyes glistening like crystal. "As you can see, we're going to need your help."

Breach of Faith

The transport flatbed pulled up to the port side of the Shadow Wolf. With a gentle touch to the accelerator, Pieter Hartzog drove the vehicle up the ramp and into the hold proper. Once it was in place, he killed the engine and stepped out the driver's side door to find Tia waiting. "How did it go?" she asked.

"Fine. I inspected everything," Pieter said. His accent was from the neutral world Oranje, settled by Afrikaan-speaking South Africans, the Boers who once bedeviled the British Empire. He had the lightest skin of the entire crew, which was little surprise to anyone familiar with the Boers. His sandy blond hair was partly combed, and his blue eyes were rimmed with black. "The fuses are top quality, got some good wiring too. New manifolds for the drives too." He glanced around. "Any news from the Captain?"

"Felix called him a while ago to let him know Jules is in the clear," Tia said. "And we just got a crapload of money into our account from the Lusitanian government. It looks like this job paid after all."

"Ah, thank God," Pieter said. "I could do with a vacation now. Maybe go somewhere if we're going to be stuck on planet for a while."

Tia gave him a smile, which turned a little sly as she asked, "So how's the kid getting her land legs?"

Pieter turned to see Samina was just now getting out of the truck. She was moving cautiously. "Got a bit to go," he said. "Gravity's a bit heavier here than she's used to. But she's already tired from the repairs. I'll give her the first break period, so Brig and I can get started."

"That works for me," Tia said. She checked to see that Samina was heading up the stairs to the exit for the hold.

Pieter was already climbing up onto the truck's bed. He remained on his knees, to put less strain on his back for the task ahead. "Any sign of when the Captain will be back?" he asked before reaching over and pulling the first box off of the stacks of boxes and cases present.

"Any time now, I'd think." Tia shrugged. She took the box from him and noted it contained the large fuses needed for the ship's main power systems. She walked the case over to the side of the hold and set it down. "He told Felix he was coming back, but maybe he decided to check up on Jules before he comes back in. He needs his time, so I won't call him unless it's an emergency."

"That's good," Pieter said. "The Captain needs a break too. I hope he's relaxing with his friend."

"Don't we all." Tia chuckled. She glanced up to see Felix and Yanik entering the hold. "Alright, everyone, let's get this unloaded. We've still got repairs to make."

Breach of Faith

It was often that Paulina Ascaro and Martzel Aiza argued. This did not weaken their marriage as it might others, since Martzel knew full well his wife was an arguer when he met her, while she trusted him whatever their differences were. However, this was not the usual argument about family purchases or the children or what color sheets should go on their bed.

Ascaro was on her feet, tired of confinement to the bed. Her husband heard her speak and set his hands on her shoulders. "Please, don't ask me to do this," he pleaded. "You need us here."

"I need you safe," she insisted. Nearby, Xabier, Marta, and little Carmen—the youngest at seven years of age—were pretending not to be listening. "Martzel, everything's up in the air now. I'm not even sure who the Prime Minister is, or if we have one. The RSS is running everything. I might be arrested at any time."

"You're an assemblywoman. They'd never—"

"Under the State of Siege, they would. They would arrest Vargas himself, if there's a Prime Minister to order it." Ascaro clenched her remaining hand, then loosened it to take her husband's in hers. "If you go to Zalain, there are people who you can stay with. You'll be safe."

"If you're correct about it, we won't be," Martzel answered. "They'll come after us anywhere."

"Not until they consolidate enough control here. And if I fail, they'll have me anyway." She shuddered, and Martzel took her into his arms to try to reassure her. "I'm scared," she admitted in a low voice.

Martzel didn't answer, and she knew why. He was terrified.

The children came over, and it became a family embrace. Ascaro tried and failed to resist the thought that it would be the last one she ever enjoyed.

There was a sharp knock on the door. The five jumped at the noise. Ascaro swallowed while Martzel approached the door, wondering if this was it. If Travada, or whoever was giving him his orders, was coming to drag her away. Would he at least spare her family?

The woman who entered was in a blue medical uniform, not a black suit. Relief filled Ascaro. It was the chief nurse for the floor, Nasira. "Madame Assemblywoman, the surgeons are ready," she said, her Portuguese spoken with a Moroccan accent.

Ascaro didn't hide her relief, even if her fear wasn't entirely purged. "As am I," she said, self-consciously bringing her left arm up to see the stump that used to be the lower part of her forearm.

Nasira nodded and stepped in. A male orderly pushed a stretcher in. She laid upon it and, with her family following, was off to the surgical bay to replace her destroyed limb.

Breach of Faith

James Henry thought he was going to go mad. Here he was, standing in his friend's mission, and meeting the leader of Lusitania's fascist movement for the second time and in the same place as before. It was enough that he took a moment to force himself to consider her appearance.

While before she'd been dressed like a government minister, Caetano was now covered in plain clothes, very dull and quite worn, in fact. While she kept something of the calm and controlled demeanor he'd noted before, to Henry, she looked like she'd been through hell. Not just the bandages visible on her, but her bagged eyes and fatigued look robbed her of the poised appearance he'd seen before. There were healed wounds on her face, and she was favoring an arm as if it had also been hurt. She seemed to be a different person—almost.

Caetano nodded to al-Lahim. "Major," she said with Portuguese-accented English. Her voice seemed to be a little warmer than Henry remembered, yet weaker.

Al-Lahim nodded. "Good to see you've recovered more. You're too valuable an asset to lose, Garbo."

It was clear Miri was surprised too, but hers was mild compared to the shock on Henry's face.

"You've got to be... no, this is insane," Henry got out. He glared down at al-Lahim. "You're telling me that CIS has the most powerful damned fascist in all of Lusitania on the payroll? What… what the hell are you people doing?"

"She's not what she appears to be, Captain," al-Lahim said. "She's not a fascist in her heart."

"She isn't? Could've fooled me!" Henry angrily retorted. His eyes shifted from al-Lahim to Caetano and back to al-Lahim. "How many innocent people have been hurt by her followers? How many people has she put in prison because they crossed her?" He gestured to the rest of the pews. "How many homes and businesses and churches were vandalized because she whipped people into a fascist frenzy?!"

"Too many to count," Caetano replied. Her voice was not only weak now, but there was a slight tremor to it. It sounded like vulnerability.

Henry ignored her and kept his attention on al-Lahim. "And you're telling me CIS is behind all of this?"

"No. We didn't engineer her rise to power," al-Lahim replied. "In fact, we had nothing to do with her until a few years ago. She came to us, Captain."

Henry's reaction went beyond skepticism to outright disbelief. He was not going to buy they had nothing to do with this. It was outrageous to think that. "Let me get this straight… a ranking member of the PdDN just walked into the Coalition Embassy and said, 'Hey, I'm a senior official of the political party that beats people for walking into the Coalition Embassy. I'd like to work for you secretly. Where do I sign up?'" The bitter sarcasm practically dripped from his voice.

"It didn't quite go that way, and we were quite skeptical for a time," al-Lahim said. "My superiors dismissed her initially as plotting a stunt against us. It took her time and a lot of effort to convince us of her sincerity."

By this point, Caetano was sitting down. "I find your anger interesting, Captain," she said, her tone quiet, still a little controlled. "You talk like a man driven to genuine moral outrage, but you and I both know you've compromised your own morals before. You couldn't avoid doing so while working for men like Duarte Vitorino and Frank Lou."

Henry glared at her. Her point still struck home. He was not the fresh-faced Coalition officer he once was, standing for truth, justice, and freedom. He was a spacer trying to survive, and that meant moral compromises he once would never have imagined taking. His face twitched from the shame he felt at knowing it was true.

And yet... "I've bribed people, yeah, and I've even shot people trying to hurt me and mine, or steal things from me or my employers," Henry admitted. "I've smuggled things, broken laws, even threatened a few times. But I've never beaten an innocent family for saying the wrong thing. I've never taken someone's freedom from them as you have."

Caetano's lowered her eyes and nodded. "You are correct on that," she began. "I've done far worse. I deserve to be hated for it. But for the good of everyone, please, hear me out. We don't have much time left to stop Vitorino and the League."

The admission finally drained enough of the anger from Henry that he relented for the moment. "You were injured in the bombing," he said.

"Nearly killed, despite my safeguards," she replied. "I was fortunate I was able to slip away in the chaos."

"What about your guy Carvalho? He's working for Vitorino now."

"And he’s a part of Vitorino's pact with the League," Miri added.

Caetano's expression darkened. "He wasn't there for the bombing. Oh, I underestimated him. He wanted greater power, that I knew, but I thought he wanted it inside of the PdDN. His aspirations are higher, and I have no doubt he intends to overthrow Vitorino as well. He knew everything needed to seize power."

"So what safeguards are you talking about?" Henry asked. "Against the bombing? Were you behind the bombing somehow?"

"Yes and no," she replied. "They were never supposed to be used. I had plans to, if necessary, set them off when the Assembly was not meeting. To make it look like an unplanned detonation."

"Why?" Henry asked. His anger was mostly gone, but he had no intention of giving Caetano an inch.

"Because it was part of my plan to destroy the PdDN," Caetano said. "Utterly and completely."

"You wanted to destroy your own political party?" Miri asked.

"That's been my goal for the last fifteen years of my life," Caetano spoke every word in a confident, relieved tone, as if she were releasing a burden through admission, "to stop the rise of fascism in Lusitania. I was going to humiliate the PdDN utterly by making them look like they'd botched a coup attempt."

Her words caused Henry to shake his head. "And how would you do that without hanging yourself too?"

"I didn't care about 'hanging myself.' If all went according to plan, I would be written into Lusitanian history as a villain, a mad powermonger who nearly broke our world to take control of it," she pointed out. "If we can make this work, it may prove even better. I become the mad incompetent powermonger who let a traitor infiltrate her office and turn her plot against her." Caetano laughed. "Maybe that will play even better. The humiliation will tarnish the entire PdDN. The so-called defenders of the nation making its subjugation to the League possible."

Henry sat quietly in the pew, thinking about what she was saying. The ramifications of it. He still had trouble believing it. That Caetano was playing some kind of ridiculous long game to break the fascist movement on Lusitania.

He noticed Miri was looking with interest at her. "What was your plan?" she asked Caetano. "Arrange to have your apparent bomb plot exposed?"

Caetano nodded. "I have the evidence gathered in a safe place. When the time was right, I was going to ensure the warning was sent to police officers I knew to be anti-fascist. They would discover the bombs, and the investigation would lead them to the evidence. I was going to arrange my death so that it looked like I'd been trying to flee the planet."

"I was encouraging her to make it a proper faked death so that we could get her off-world," al-Lahim interjected. "But that's for another time. Right now we need to discuss our next step."

Henry crossed his arms in front of him. "What we need to do is get the hell off-world. I'm not sure we can do anything beyond that."

"Finding out their plan, I would think," Miri said. "The ship disappearances have nothing to do with what happened here. There's a larger plan beyond Lusitania, that much Vitorino made clear, and that's what they're being used for."

"Can we steal the information from their computer network?" al-Lahim asked.

"Not likely," Caetano replied. "Vitorino is cautious enough that any evidence of this plan will be carefully isolated from easy discovery."

"So, it's like I said." Henry shook his head. "There's nothing we can do here. We should leave. Find a way to get off-world."

"Their fleet will shoot you down before you're out of the atmosphere," al-Lahim said.

Caetano cleared her throat. "They won't if I'm there." When everyone was staring at her, she smiled thinly. "I hid ministerial authorization codes in the Ministry of Defense systems, just in case my subordinates launched their own coup and I had to move against them. I never informed Carvalho, so Vitorino won't know about them. I can use them to grant you departure rights. Then we'll have a limited window to get out to the Lawrence limit and jump."

"Good, now we just have to get back to the Wolf," Henry said.

"Not until you agree to my terms, Captain."

Henry pursed his lips and resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. Obviously, it was too much to hope she'd just let him and his crew go, even if she was a double agent in the fascist ranks. "And those terms are?"

"The obvious one," she said. "Help us stop the League of Sol."


For several moments, uneasy silence filled the Faith Outreach Mission. The silence ended with a harsh laugh from Henry. He shook his head as he did so before half-burying his face in his left hand. With his elbow propped up on his knee, it made him look like he was cradling his face. "Right, of course," he said. "Is there anything else you want with that? Galactic peace, maybe? Or will we aim low? Maybe I can snap my fingers and make the League vanish from Sagittarius?"

"She's not being facetious, Captain," al-Lahim said. "She means what she says, and for what it's worth, I'd like to have your help as well."

Henry leveled his skeptical gaze on the Coalition intel agent. "Yeah, I'm sure you would. I'm sure you'd take any help you could. But you seem to be forgetting something. I'm just a spacer. An independent spacer. I've got one ship and a shorthanded crew. They're a damned fine shorthanded crew, but still." There was pride in his voice as he said it, glancing from al-Lahim to Caetano. "You're asking me to take on the League? With what, good intentions?"

"I believe you are capable enough to contribute," Caetano said.

"Yeah, maybe I am, but that doesn't mean it'll work," he retorted. "We barely got away from one Q-Ship, okay? Just one, and they had a weapon that knocked out our systems with one shot. So how the hell am I supposed to fight something like that?"

"With help," Caetano said. "There are other spacers we can rally. Those who hate the League as well. Maybe even some pirates will join in. The ship disappearances have hurt them just as badly."

"And they're going to believe me because I ask nicely?" Henry's voice was thick with sarcasm. "These are people who spend their time running from government fleets because their ships don't have the firepower to go up against a proper warship. We know the League's got a few of those around."

Caetano met his eyes, and it was as unsettling a look as Henry felt during their first meeting. "You're frightened.”

"I have every right to be," Henry replied. "What you're asking for is such a long shot… even if we got a fleet together, even if everyone agreed to fight, we don't know where we're going. There are dozens of star systems the League could use as a base for these ships."

"I can guarantee you they're coming here," Caetano said. "Whatever Vitorino's up to, that fleet is part of it, and they'll be brought here."

Miri spoke up. "She's right." She nodded to the other woman. "Vitorino was trying to get a recording of me to use in fabricating a confession."

"Right." Caetano narrowed her eyes, apparently thinking over what Miri said. "If he's going to permanently assume leadership, he'll need something more than the bombing. An immediate threat will let him take full control of Lusitania's government. A staged invasion would work. If these stolen ships are outfitted with the disabling weapon you're talking about, they may even pose a threat to our defense fleet."

"Or could be made to appear to pose one," said Miri.

Caetano glanced at Miri before she returned her attention to Henry. "Either way, we know they're coming here, and the sooner we get off-world, the more quickly we can rally a fleet to fight them when they come. That's where you come in."

"You're asking me to commit my crew to a fight we probably can't win," Henry said. "To throw everything I've got left into this."

"From where I sit, Captain, you have little choice." Caetano shook her head. "Even if you escape Lusitania intact, you and your crew will be hunted to the ends of the galaxy by them."

"Li will make sure of that," added al-Lahim.

Henry believed him. The League officer was a holder of grudges. More so, he thought of how Oskar described the League's attitudes. As a state, as an ideology, they couldn't stand people opposing or undermining them.

We could still make for the Jewel Box, came the thought. But even as it came, another one followed. So can the League. Maybe not a fleet, but agents. Assassins. We'll never rest.

"Jim?" Jules motioned with his head toward the pulpit and altar. "A word?"

The others said nothing, allowing Henry to follow his friend's brother to the altar. They stopped and stood in front of it. "I'm not going to tell you what I think you should do, Jim," Jules said, his tone soft.

"Thank you," Henry answered. He looked back at the rest of them. "This whole thing—"

"—is difficult, yes." Jules smiled, sadness evident in his eyes. "And I'll understand if you're angry with me over it."

Henry glanced at him with some confusion. "Why would I be angry with you? You didn't do anything."

"I did," Jules said. "I could’ve left here a year ago. I could’ve recommended Faith Outreach send someone from one of the other neutral worlds, or see if there was Lusitanian clergy able to take the mission. You wouldn't have gotten mixed up in this then."

Henry crossed his arms and shook his head. "No. No, I don't think it would've mattered. Caetano knew about me already. She'd have found something to force me into it, and Vitorino would've asked me regardless. So would al-Lahim." He sighed. "I'm more to blame. I let Vitorino bring me in, make me more and more reliant on his jobs for big paydays. If I'd stayed away, we'd never have gotten involved in this." He glanced at Miri. "Although… God knows what would've happened to her."

"Yes, He does," Jules said. He went over and sat on the steps leading up to the pulpit. Henry joined him. Jules looked over the room. "I did all of this because I felt Him asking me to," he said. "Coming out to neutral space to minister, to witness for Him. To spread the love of Christ."

"You were always the strongest believer of us all," said Henry. He grinned a little. "I respect it."

"You used to believe it too. You and Felix."

"Yeah." Henry bit down on his lip. "We did. You kinda have to when you're in the CDF."

"I don't know, despite the saying, I remember a few atheists were in the foxholes, so to speak," Jules said. "Although, then again, I was never in a battle."

"That's not what I meant," Henry said. "I mean, the odds against us out there. Fighting the League day after day, year after year. Beating off one attack and two more launched right after it. They just keep coming." Henry held his hands together, folding them in his lap. "A lot of us had to believe we had God's help, because if we didn't, what hope did we have? It wasn't just having faith, but needing it."

Jules nodded quietly. He said nothing, but his look was thoughtful.

"Then the Laffey happened, and it… it just seemed like one big joke by the universe," Henry continued. "Everything was against me, even more than what it felt like to be fighting the League. It was the same choice the CDF makes every day: give up, or fight and probably lose."

"So you gave up." Jules patted Henry on the shoulder. "And you've never forgiven God or yourself for it."

"It's not like that," Henry said. "God doesn't have to answer to me, if He's out there. That's… that's the thing about it. He didn't hear me, He doesn't hear us, because—why would He? Why would He keep paying attention to us? We must be the most disappointing part of Creation He's ever dealt with. The rules He laid out, the important ones, were simple. Stuff like 'don't kill,' 'don't steal,' and we keep screwing them up anyway." He let out a small chuckle. "It must have been so painful watching us torture and slaughter each other. Knowing that He gave us so much, and we've pissed it away."

Jules nodded quietly. "Well, I guess it's humanity you need to forgive, then."

"You can't forgive humanity," Henry scoffed. "Humanity's not a person. It's a construct. It's a bunch of individuals deciding to do these things, and a lot of them don't want forgiveness." He bowed his head. In his thoughts, he considered the last decade of his life, and what he'd just told Caetano. A distant, familiar sense of disappointment came over him. The memory of young Lieutenant James Henry stared at him from across twenty-three years. He saw all of the corruption Captain James Henry had participated in, the bribes and smuggling and violence done just for a payday, and he bristled at the thought of what he’d become.

Jules saw the look in Henry's eyes. He shook his head. "You can't start healing until you forgive yourself," he said. "Until you reconcile with the part of your soul that still wears the CDF uniform."

Henry lowered his head and shook it. "Yeah, well, he was pretty disappointed with the CDF, and I'm the result. A spacer with a crew to care for and jobs to do if I'm going to keep my ship flying."

"You're still out looking to take responsibility for others," Jules pointed out. "I think Spacer Jim and CDF Jim are a lot more alike than you say." He gave Henry a knowing look. "Which is why you're so upset right now, since Spacer Jim wants to walk away, and CDF Jim's yelling at him that he has to step up and stop the League. It's the responsible thing to do."

Henry rolled his eyes at that, but he couldn't keep the disbelieving look on his face. Jules had him pegged. Deep down, he knew he and his crew were in this deep, and the only safe way out was by seeing it through. More than that, he knew the League had to be opposed. Had to be stopped. The attempt must be made, at least. "Sometimes, I hate being responsible," he sighed. He reached over and took Jules by the shoulder. "Well, if I'm doing this, I'm bringing you with me this time."

Jules shook his head. "My place is here. With the mission, and the people who rely on it."

"That's not going to save you or them from Vitorino or Li," Henry said. "Even if Vitorino doesn't come after you, Li will. Felix and I are going to need clear heads for this. If you're away from Lusitania, it'll make that a hell of a lot easier."

"Language, Jim," Jules chided in a light tone. Nevertheless, he smiled slightly. "I suppose that I can't say no to that. I can't endanger my flock."

"Good. So get your things together." Henry stood up and glanced at Miri, Caetano, and al-Lahim, who were all staring at him with some expectation. "We need to get going."

Breach of Faith

Li arrived at the spaceport in a foul mood. He had no faith that Vitorino's people could catch Gaon or Captain Henry. Especially not if local Coalition intel assets were helping them, and that was virtually a given. Now he had to face Admiral Hartford and tell him Gaon was not in custody.

A part of him wondered if the Admiral would suspend the operation over this, given his history with her. He immediately dismissed this idea as too foolish for a man like Hartford to think about. Their timing demanded they act.

Now he waited as his car, a self-driving anti-grav unit sent by the embassy, pulled up to the hangar where his ship was kept. The hunt for Gaon and Henry aside, Li needed to be with the fleet to commence the final phase of the operation. He couldn't afford to be late. Over a year of careful work was riding on the events of the next week. And the League would not, could not, tolerate failure.

The vehicle passed through various groups of spacers and port workers as it journeyed toward the hangar. The lockdown meant that the former couldn't leave, and the latter would have little work. Li watched them and frowned. On an orderly League world, they would already be shifted to work elsewhere, fulfilling their Social duty to labor for Society. To do otherwise was to be a parasite on Society. As the saying went, idle hands became idle thoughts, and idle thoughts could prompt anti-Social behavior.

The sooner our conquest of the Coalition is over, the sooner I will get rotated back home. Then I can be away from this individualist madness.

The numbers of jumpsuited workers idling around dwindled as Li approached his hangar, one of the ones at the outer edge of the hangar area. The vehicle stopped finally, and he got out. He looked around and noted only one other figure nearby, a jumpsuited technician working on a nearby comm-unit. Li felt satisfied at seeing him: at least someone on this miserable world understood the need to do their work no matter what.

He punched a code into the hangar door and entered. The middle of the space was taken up by the personal transport issued to him by League External Security. Its surface was a silvery-white and meant to partially absorb and refract various electronic emissions, making the craft hard to target for attack. Twin pulse cannons built into the front and a handful of auto-turrets provided some self-defense, but in truth, the transport was never meant for combat. It was designed to survive long enough to jump away.

That was the real secret of the ship. Although it was only a little larger than a heavy fighter, it had its own Lawrence drive. It was one of the smallest models of vessels to carry one, and a shining pinnacle of superior engineering inherent in the Society.

He climbed aboard and ran through his systems checks. When that was done, he took the main cockpit seat and called the spaceport tower. The controller wasn't one of his suborned people, but he didn't need any of them for this. Vitorino's codes would get him through the lockout.

With launch approval given, Li focused himself upon finally getting off the planet he hated.

Breach of Faith

The machinery of the hangar was ear-splittingly loud as the roof opened in preparation for Li's imminent departure. It covered up the sound of the side door as it was forced open.

On the other side of it, Allan Kepper adjusted his "borrowed" technician jumpsuit before bringing up his sniper rifle. He made a last check on the rounds loaded within it before focusing on his target. The crosshairs fell on a stabilizing fin for atmospheric flight, just beside the plasma drive engine nozzle on the right side of the craft. He grinned in amusement before pulling the trigger.

The round did not directly damage Li's ship. It merely deposited a micro-QET there, one to track Li across Sagittarius if need be.

A pity I didn't get here a few minutes earlier. Then, Kepper pondered, he could’ve taken his time with Li, as was his desire. But there was a consolation prize, one that would give vengeance just as sweet as stabbing Li to death with a dull knife.

The ship's launching thrusters fired. It accelerated vertically into the air until it was clear of the hangar. The main engines kicked in, and the League ship started accelerating toward the upper atmosphere until it became nothing but a speck in the twilight sky.

Kepper pulled out his tablet and activated the tracking program. Once he loaded the micro-QET's signature, he watched with satisfaction as it showed a blinking red light pulling away from a rendered image of Lusitania.

Well, Li, you wanted to question my skills? Now you'll find out just how good I am.

Kepper put his weapon away and started walking along. He'd have to return the jumpsuit. And then, he had somewhere to be.

Breach of Faith

Al-Lahim's car glided across the roads of Gamavilla. Inside, the CIS officer remained calm behind the wheel, while beside him, Jules watched the long yellow and orange shading of the twilight.

In the back seat, Henry sat behind Jules, Miri in the middle, and Caetano beside al-Lahim. All three had injuries, although Henry's was by far the least of the three, simply the remnant bruising and cuts from his battle with Li. Miri's leg was beginning to regain mobility. Caetano still looked fairly battered.

It was not a comfortable ride for them. While al-Lahim's vehicle could shift color and even had a few different IDs on its traffic control transponder, it was still likely the state security services would find them. Henry's gun was in his right hand and settled on his lap, the safety engaged. Within a few seconds, he could fire, if it came to that.

Not that it would do much good. If it came down to a shootout, they were unlikely to get away.

Gradually, the heart of Gamavilla fell away, and they approached the spaceport. Each entrance was now under guard, with portable particle barriers in place to forbid access or departure without the guards' assistance. Henry swallowed. Vitorino stepping up the security was expected, but it could still be terrible for them.

Al-Lahim avoided one entrance and then the next before pulling up to one that went directly toward the hangars. A single sentry challenged him.

"Identification?" she asked, her word spoken with a distinct Basque accent. "For all occupants."

Al-Lahim used his tablet to provide the fake IDs to hide them from the systems. Here was the moment the entire ride had built up to. A clean getaway required not being noticed until they were already on the ship and ready to launch. If they were identified, all would be for naught.

Henry shifted his fingers and prepared to release the safety on his Danfield-Colt.

The woman handed the tablet back to al-Lahim. "Proceed.” She stepped back and, with a stroke of her finger, keyed the particle barrier to lower, allowing the vehicle entry.

Once they were clear, Henry asked, "What was your plan if she saw something wrong with those IDs?"

"Trade secret," al-Lahim answered, a sly little grin forming on his face.

Caetano chuckled lightly in response. While she felt warmer and more personable now, Henry couldn't help but think of her persona as the feared leader of the PdDN.

They pulled the car up to Hangar 3-B and found a flatbed truck pulling out of the hold. Henry noted Pieter was at the controls. Undoubtedly they'd just finished unloading their new fuses and other replacement parts. Al-Lahim didn't bother stopping, weaving around the truck to pull his vehicle up into the hold.

Henry immediately threw open the door and got out. Even as fast as he was, he found Tia, Felix, and Brigitte all hefting their pistols toward the car. "Whoa! Stand down," he ordered.

The three showed visible relief. "Where've you been?" Felix demanded. "Your commlink's down and… Jules?"

Jules was already half out of his door. He waved at Felix and smiled. "Good to see you." He looked around. "So this is the ship Jim's Uncle Charlie picked out, huh?"

"Jim, what is—what the—" Tia stared in recognition at Cristina Caetano as she slipped out of the rear door on the other end.

Felix noticed her too and quickly recognized her. His weapon started to come back up and only stopped when Jules stepped in the way. "What the hell is she doing here?"

"Saving you," Caetano said. "Vitorino will be after the Shadow Wolf soon enough, and I can get you off-world without having the military shoot you down."

That brought confusion to Felix's face. "What? How? Why would—"

"It's a long story," Henry said, interrupting Felix, "and we'll explain when we're safe." He turned to Tia. "What's our status? Can we launch? Make a jump?"

"I think so," said Tia. "I mean, Pieter wanted to take things offline to begin full repairs, but we can go if we need to."

"We need to," Henry said. "Vitorino's not just trading with the League, he's outright working with them. We've got to get off Lusitania before he sends security forces for us." He nodded to Caetano. "She's got the codes we need. Get her up to the—"


Henry and the others turned to see Pieter walk up the ramp. He was not alone. A light-skinned human man stepped up with him, wearing a set of casual business clothes. There was a visible bulge on his waist from a holster. "He wants to talk to you, sir," Pieter said. "He said something about—"

"You!" Miri's eyes widened. "That's the man who attacked me in Sektatsh!"

Everyone in the room with a firearm leveled it at the man. He held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "The name's Allan Kepper. I'm not here for a fight."

"Then what do you want?" Henry asked. "Better yet, why should we trust you?"

"Because, Captain, I'm a professional," Kepper said. "And Chantavit Li tried to have me killed. Since we've got that in common, I figured we could make a deal."

Again, Henry spoke. "What kind of deal?"

"I help you track him down and prevent whatever he's up to." Kepper grinned mischievously. "And when the time comes, you let me handle him my way."

The grin wasn't what unsettled Henry. It was the eyes. Those blue eyes glinted in a manner that told Henry the calm, rational voice and professional demeanor was a cover for something far, far nastier and vicious.

"I've heard of you," al-Lahim said. He glanced at Henry. "He's got a solid reputation in the underworld for tracking people down."

"I am familiar with his skill myself," Miri said, her eyes narrowed. Her appropriated steak knife glistened in the light as she held it up in a defensive stance.

Kepper stared at her briefly. "I admit I was pissed with how hard you fought, but I can't fault you for it. In the end, you were just a mark, and it was business. Now Li, he's made this personal. I'm going to kill him."

"Can't say I'll miss him," Henry said. "But the question of trust comes back. How do I know this is legit? That you're not working for Li?"

He held up a digital reader. It showed a blinking icon on a base model of the solar system. "Because I planted a tracker on his ship to see where he went." Kepper smiled. "And I've encoded the tracker to only respond to my device, and it's got protection as well. Do anything to me, and you'll never find the quantum signature for my micro-QET. You want to follow Li, you bring me along as a partner."

Henry's first instinct was to shoot him anyway. It was Caetano who looked to him and al-Lahim. "I'm aware of his reputation as well," she confessed. "It leads me to believe he can be trusted, on this issue at least."

"Given what Vitorino said, their plans are coming to a conclusion," Miri said. "Li is likely heading to join Admiral Hartford and the missing ships."

"So this is our chance to find where they are and deal with them," al-Lahim said.

Tia shot Henry a worried look. Henry nodded at her and mouthed, "Later." Right now, he had more on his mind than discussing the “fight the League” plan.

"I'll be happy to help you shut down whatever Li's working on," Kepper said amiably. He was still grinning while holding up his tablet. "All you have to do is let me deal with him my way."

After several moments, al-Lahim lowered his pistol. "Very well," he said. "I agree."

"As do I," Caetano said.

Miri, who had more reason than anyone present to want Kepper gone, gave a knowing look to Henry. He could already see she was making the same calculation the others had. She was weighing the risk that this was a trap the same as he was. Because if it wasn't a trap, Kepper was giving them the one thing they needed to make fighting back a possibility.

All I have to do is invite him onto my ship.

Henry sighed. He lowered his weapon, as did the others on his crew. "Fine. You can come aboard."

"Thank you," he said, his voice still amiable, almost happy. "Now, shall we get going?"

"I think that would be best," Henry said. He motioned to Pieter. "Close the hold."

Pieter walked over to the appropriate lever and pulled it. The cargo ramp lifted from the ground and retracted into the hull while the airlock doors cycled close.

"Miss Caetano, please join me on the bridge," said Henry. "Everyone else, launch stations. Let's get out of here."


Everyone took their stations. This included a bleary-eyed Samina, who’d been awakened from what had been much-needed rest, and a rather grumpy Oskar, who took charge of Caetano the moment he saw her remnant injuries.

Now Henry sat on his ship's bridge with Cera, Tia, and Piper at their places, and Caetano standing with Oskar in the back. He was still fitting a brace on her injured arm. "As soon as we're clear, you are going back to the infirmary," he told her. "You need full medical attention."

"So you've said, Doctor," Caetano said.

"Opening hangar doors," Tia said. With a stroke of the key at her station, she sent the remote command to open the roof of the hangar.

"Engines are warmed up, we have thrusters at your command," Cera added.

"Traffic Control is signaling, demanding we transmit authorization or shut down," Piper said.

Henry glanced back and motioned to Caetano.

Caetano stepped up beside him and reached down with her good hand to punch in a series of letters. Piper hit the transmit key to send it through the channel to traffic control.

Tense moments passed. By preparing to launch, Henry brought them over the point of no return if the code didn't work; even if they backed down, security forces would come out to investigate, and Vitorino would quickly be informed. Launching anyway meant that every military battery would be aiming for them as they rushed for orbit.

They could try a jump, of course, but jumping before they hit the Lawrence limit was a risk, especially with their non-military model drive, which lacked the robustness that would allow it to function within the confines of overlapping stellar and planetary gravity wells.

Tia gave Henry a look that was more than worried. It practically screamed, "You and I are going to have words."

The reply came back, and this time, Piper put it over the speaker. "Shadow Wolf, this is Traffic Control. Code acknowledged. You are clear to launch."

"Thank you, Traffic Control. We confirm," Piper answered for Henry, who sat back in his chair and sighed with relief.

Cera triggered the engines a moment later. The Shadow Wolf rose from the hangar. Its maneuvering thrusters changed its orientation and direction to line up with the departure vector given by Traffic Control. Once she had the ship on the right heading, Cera kicked in the plasma drive and sent the Shadow Wolf flying rapidly towards orbit.

The minutes it took to get to orbit left subtle tension on the bridge. Caetano's assurances aside, the possibility of an attack was still something nobody could get off their mind. While in the atmosphere, they would have a significant disadvantage, especially with fire coming from both below and above.

Henry took a breath to calm himself while the monitor showed the twilight sky and stars vanishing into the deep black void of space. He glanced at his display holotank to see if any pursuers were after them. There was none yet. He was still worried by the number of Lusitanian military ships in orbital space and along the best departure vectors toward the Lawrence limit.

"Plasma drives t' full. We're on our departure vector," Cera said.

"Good. Keep us on it." Henry stood from his chair and touched the intercom on the arm of it. "Alright, everyone, we're in space. I'm not sure how long we have until Vitorino finds out we've flown the coop, but hopefully, we'll be far out enough he can't easily intercept us. Felix and Cera will man the bridge while I meet the rest of you in the galley." He looked toward Tia. "We have a lot to talk about."

Breach of Faith

Everyone—guests and crew—found space in the galley. Al-Lahim remained close to Kepper, who seemed indifferent. Miri was massaging her leg, still trying to get feeling back into it. Jules was at the pantry, preparing what looked like a stew from the food supplies they had aboard. The pot he was using was big enough that he obviously intended for the stew to go to everyone who wanted some.

Caetano sat near Henry, her expression withdrawn.

Henry noticed Tia seemed ready to explode, so he nodded to her first. "Go ahead."

"What the hell happened down there, Jim? What's Cristina Caetano doing here? And what's this about fighting the League?"

The others stared. They too wanted to know just what he was getting them into.

Henry let out a sigh. "In short order, Vitorino's behind the bombing, or rather, he hijacked Miss Caetano's plan to set the PdDN up to look like they were planning a coup. He's also working with the League on some plot to attack or undermine the Coalition. He tried to turn Miri over to them, and a League External Security officer named Li tried to kill me. The same officer hired Kepper over here," he indicated the man, who smiled in recognition, "to kidnap Miri back in Sektatsh. When we stopped it, he tried to have Kepper killed, so Kepper's on our side now."

"And our side is… what, exactly?" Tia asked. She was frowning. "Because last time I checked, our side was us. It wasn't Lusitania or the damned Coalition!"

Henry drew in a breath. This was why he'd assigned Felix to the bridge. He didn't need him here, causing an even worse argument with Tia. "Yeah, well, the League isn't giving us a choice," he said. "Commander Li wants us all dead. He'll stop at nothing to do the deed."

"I believe it." Brigitte had her armed crossed. She shook her head at the situation. "The League hates people who stand up to them. Even if we don't pose a real threat." There was a sour note to her voice, one Henry knew was earned.

"Then we need to run," said Tia. "We make for Omega or somewhere else far from here. We can't fight the entire damn League by ourselves!"

"You won't need to," Caetano said. "We can gather allies in the rest of the Trifid Region. I know who to call."

"As do I," al-Lahim added.

Tia shook her head. "This is ridiculous. Jim, they're leading us to our deaths. Don't do this!"

"I'm not leading anyone to anything unless they're willing to go," Henry began with a set jaw. "Our next stop when we leave here is Trinidad Station. I figure we've got a good rep there, and the Trinis have been suffering from these raids just as much as anyone. We can get some of their ships to sign up and send out the signal to see if anyone else will. As for you guys…” He shook his head. "Well, you're not saying anything I didn't say when they first asked me. I'm still not sure. But the one thing I'm sure of is, if the League wins, there'll be nowhere safe for us in the long run. Trifid, Omega, the Coreward Reaches, even the Jewel Box. The League'll be everywhere, either with their ships or their agents. Especially since we're on External Security's kill list now. That's why I figure it's our fight now. Or my fight anyway."

He drew in a breath while seeing some of their reactions. Samina, tired as she was, was paling at the thought of yet more danger, and a haunted look came over Tia's eyes.

After seeing the doubt and uncertainty showing in some of the others, he continued, "Listen, this… before, when we went to Harron, I told you I'd let you go if you didn't want to stick the job out. Well, the offer's up again. Anyone who doesn't want to be a part of this can leave once we get to Trinidad. And I won't even say no to you coming back, not over this. This isn't a passenger run, after all, it's the real thing, and most of you didn't sign up for war. You don't want in on it, you stay on Trinidad, I'll give you two month’s pay in advance. If we survive this mess, I'll let you rejoin the crew, no hard feelings."

"And if ya don't survive?" asked Vidia in a quiet, calm tone.

Henry shrugged. "Well, if we stop the League, have a good life. If we don't…" He sighed. "I dunno. It depends on if they know you're on the crew or not." He rubbed at his forehead. His doubts roared back into focus. They weren’t military, and this was now a war. "I didn't want this. I never asked for it. But we're in this together whether we like it or not. Our best bet for getting out of it is to help stop whatever the League's up to. It'll give them something else to worry about, at the very least, so they might leave us alone. Otherwise… we have to run and stay lucky. They will chase us, and they only need to get lucky once."

Silence greeted him. He could see each of them was thinking about what he'd said. About what he was asking of them. His sincerity in saying they could walk away.

Henry felt guilty. The damned truth was that they couldn't walk away with no hard feelings. Oh, he'd bring them back, and he'd personally try his best not to let it get to him, but the crew who went with him would feel let down by anyone who refused. It would undermine, even break, their chemistry as a team, and the thought hurt. After all, with the exception of Samina, they'd been together for over two years.

So this wouldn't be entirely a free choice. If enough said yes, the others would go along to avoid being the odd one out, the "coward."

Or almost all of them would say no, and he'd have no crew, but that was a different problem to consider.

Henry was ready for Felix to chime in from the bridge, saying he was sticking with it. But the first voice heard was in the galley.

"I'm in, Captain." Brigitte stood up. "Let's get them."

The others looked at her, varying degrees of surprise or bewilderment on their faces. Henry had some surprise himself.

Piper reached for her hand. "Brig—"

Brigitte glanced at her. "I know, Piper, I know. You don't want to fight, and I'd rather not either. But I'm tired of running from them. I'm tired of being afraid of being dragged back to their camps!" Her face twisted into an angry snarl. "If they win, running's all I'll ever be able to do. They won't stop, they can't, unless someone makes them. And if that's got to be us, well—" She turned to face Henry again, determination glinting in her eyes. "I've got your back, Captain!"

Henry noted al-Lahim's curious stare at the first of Henry's crew to sign up for what might be a suicide mission. Brigitte didn't exactly fit the image of a soldier, with her mohawk hairstyle dyed bright purple, and the rest of her hair shaved save for her braided cornrows. He thought back to Li's diatribe about individualism and figured Brigitte proved a brilliant contrast with her fierce devotion to being her own person.

Oskar nodded from his seat. "She is right," he said. "If we're the best hope for stopping the League, we must."

"You know I'm in for it," Felix said from the bridge.

"As am I, Captain," Cera added.

Piper stood as well. "It scares me," she admitted, "but if you think we can pull it off..."

Henry squeezed his lips together and stared at her. The truth was he wasn't sure they could, but depending on how things worked out, he thought they had the best chance of achieving it.

Yanik nodded his assent next, then Pieter and Vidia. That left a frightened-looking Samina and a very pensive Tia. "I've fought this kind of fight before," she said. "I lost good people. Friends. Comrades." She glanced around the assembled crew as if she could see them falling in battle, given the pain in her expression. "I won't turn my back on you," she said. "If you're all in this, I'm with you."

Brigitte nodded at her. "We stand together."

Henry felt pride in them. It wasn't their fight, but if the League wanted one anyway, they'd get it.

"Yeah. So now that you're all aboard for this, everyone to stations. We've got some repair work still to do, after all, before we reach Trinidad." Henry turned to Samina. "Miss Khan, please follow me."

While the group in the galley broke up, save Kepper and al-Lahim, who remained, Henry led Samina back toward the bridge and into his office. He made sure the door shut behind her before speaking. "You don't have to do this," he said.

Relief was plain on Samina's face. Relief, but also what Henry thought to be uncertainty. Maybe even shame. "I...I'm sorry," she said. "I'm scared."

"We all are," he said. "And what I said, I meant. You'll stay behind on Trinidad Station. We'll come back for you when this is over."

Samina swallowed. "Right. I…" She shook her head. "I'm such a coward."

"Being afraid doesn't make you a coward," Henry said.

"No, but I joined your crew! I signed up for this, and—"

"You signed up to be an Engineer's Mate on an independent transport, not a soldier," Henry corrected. "What we're doing…" He took his seat and leaned back for a moment, sighing aloud. "Spacers can face violence, yeah, but this isn't just violence. This is war. It's going to be long, grueling, and scary, and it's not what you signed on for."

Samina lowered her head. "I..." she sputtered, then was silent.

Henry felt some pride in the young lady. As relieved as she was, he thought he saw a sign Samina was trying to convince herself to fight. "I've made my decision," he began. "So don't worry about it. This is my choice, not yours. I promised your Uncle Ali I'd watch out for you."

Samina glanced up and met his eyes. "I understand." Even as she said it, Henry could see the conflict going on inside of her. She looked too tired to even try to hide it.

"Go get some rest," Henry said. "You can help with repairs when you're fresh."

Breach of Faith

The fall of night over Gamavilla signaled the end to another tense day. From the window of his hotel suite in the Royal Lusitanian, Vitorino watched the lights of the city's buildings come alive with the coming of darkness, showing that the city still had life in it.

Not the life it usually did, of course. With martial law came the sundown curfew. The civilians were leaving the streets save for a handful of brave and stupid democracy protesters daring the police to do anything about it. Vitorino considered such behavior a sign of how ridiculous humanity could be.

The same held for all of the groups clamoring for a minute of his time. The surviving party leaders, the provincial governors and the mayors, the ambitious, greedy, and the principled all wanted his attention for one cause or another. As if only they mattered. Li would make a snide remark about individualism at work, and insist on how his beloved Society had made such problems immaterial, Vitorino mused.

"Prime Minister."

Vitorino turned to face Carvalho. "Have they arrested the curfew protestors yet?"

"The police are breaking them up now. Chief Ramos wishes to know what you want done with them."

"I suppose Caetano would have ordered them abused in the jails as enemies of the State," Vitorino began. When Carvalho nodded, he smiled and shook his head. "They’ll be kept for the night and charged with disturbing the peace. Let them go in the morning with fines and a warning."

Carvalho pursed his lips for a moment and typed a reply back to Chief Ramos.

Vitorino could tell he disapproved and didn't personally care about it. Ruling through fear held too much chance for repercussions, and it would undermine his influence with other worlds more mindful of such things. A brief scare could be more easily excused than constant repression, after all.

Carvalho's expression hardened and turned angry. "Sir, we have a problem.”

Vitorino sipped at his port again, enjoying the rich taste. "Oh? What?"

"The Shadow Wolf launched from Gamavilla nearly two hours ago."

"What do you mean?" Vitorino asked in shock, his eyes narrowing. "They tried to leave, and we're just now being told? Under what circumstances were they shot down?"

"They weren't."

His aide might as well have said the ship faded from sight upon launching. Vitorino's customary demeanor fell away, replaced by anger. "What?"

"They transmitted a Ministry of Defense passcode to System Traffic Control. The code authenticated."

Vitorino slammed the glass down so hard, he was surprised it didn't shatter in his hand. "What code? How could they have breached our security? And why did it take so long for us to find out?"

"An investigation is being launched immediately. As for the time taken, the code was attached to an absolute silence order to the traffic controllers. We're only finding out because security was moving in to begin surveillance."

Vitorino paced across the room. "Have the military intercept the Shadow Wolf, now. Before it can leave the system!"

"Transmitting the order now, sir."

Breach of Faith

Paperwork has its advantages. Henry found himself grinning at the thought, even as he continued to work away at it. Most of the paperwork was confirming the purchases of materials on Lusitania. The only thing they hadn't done was fuel up, since the lockdown meant no fuel purchases, but that posed no problem. The Shadow Wolf had sufficient fuel reserves to get them back to Trinidad Station.

The advantage he felt in doing paperwork at this time was that it gave him a chance to think by himself. Henry was bringing his crew into the most dangerous situation they'd ever been in, period. If they wanted to get out of this, they had to do everything right.

Which brought him to the rest of the paperwork. With the help of a GalNet search, he'd compiled all the missing ships over the past several months. While missing ships was a sad fact of life in space, especially in neutral regions without major interstellar navies to stop piracy, it was easy to see the League was after larger vessels. The disappearances of small ships had barely changed, but medium haulers and up, there was a distinct difference. From what he could see, at least forty to forty-five additional ships had gone missing since the start of the year. With those electromagnetic pulse guns, they’d face a formidable force of Q-ships. With League warships supporting them, they could conceivably seize even a moderately-large system.

Or Lusitania itself, if their fleet was led into a trap, Henry realized. While the Lusitanians had a dreadnought and four cruisers in their fleet, those were much older models from the Terran Coalition-Saurian War period, and they only had about thirty destroyers and corvettes. If the EM weapons could be brought to bear against a portion of that fleet… It doesn’t make sense. Vitorino would never let the League destroy his fleet. Something bigger was at work—but what?

Either way, they'd need a lot of help. At best, Henry figured that he might get about ten of the ships at Trinidad to follow him, if he had a target. Maybe more, if he was lucky and persuasive. The chance to salvage whatever the League had would sweeten the deal for the pirates who helped provide for the station. Individual spacers would consider joining in for similar spoils, be it salvaged League equipment or claiming reward money from the many shipping companies that had taken losses. In fact, splitting the spoils was going to be the tricky part if they won.

If they won. The haunting thought came to him that he’d get them all killed, and they were in over their heads. He forced it away because it was his job to show faith in their ability to deal with this.

A knock at the door brought Henry out of his thoughts. "Come in," he called out, glancing up just as Tia entered.

She said nothing and took a seat across the desk, setting her elbows onto the desk surface.

"So, come to yell at me?" Henry asked, a small grin on his face.

"I wanted to," she said. "To… to just vent and yell at you until I couldn't speak." Tia drew in a breath and lowered her head into her hands. "I can't get the thought out of my head that we’re all going to die. That this is going to be no better than the Uprising."

"I know you lost a lot of good friends in it.”

"I knew I would. We all went in knowing that, but ready to fight to save our people. To free them. Whatever the odds."

"And without knowing it was a trap made possible by the League."

"Yeah." Tia lifted her head to face him directly. "Jim, I don't want this crew to die or get captured by the League. I've seen enough of my friends suffer humiliation and death."

"So you said." Henry set his hands on the desk and leaned forward. "Makes me think of our conversation the other day," he said, referring to their last visit to Trinidad Station. "About the ways anyone can die."

"I stand by what I said. If I'm going to go out, I'd like to go out the right way," Tia stated, her jaw set. "And I think that's how everyone feels. It's just—"

"You don't have to say it." Henry tried to reassure with his tone. "On that subject, I've told Samina I'm leaving her at Trinidad."

"Good. She's young. She shouldn't be dragged off to this fight with the rest of us."

"I think she's a bit torn over it. She's scared, but she—"

The ship's intercom let out a tone. "Jim, you'd better get up here," Felix said. "We've got military ships burning hot for us."

"Damn," Tia muttered. She and Henry stood at nearly the same time and went for the door. "Vitorino must've figured out we launched."

"We knew he would."

They left the office and went straight for the bridge. Felix vacated the command chair and went over to Piper's usual post. Cera was at the helm. "We've got a cutter, two frigates, and a destroyer burning in," Felix said. He checked the console. "They’re hailing us."


A moment later, a woman's voice accented with Arabic came over the radio. "This is Commander al-Rashid of the Oliveira e Carmo to vessel Shadow Wolf. You have violated the system lockdown and will now be brought into military custody. You are hereby ordered to decelerate and await our arrival. Failure to comply will result in the use of lethal force."

Henry considered bringing Caetano up and having her take over, but there was no guarantee that would work. If anything, it might backfire. He looked to the holotank to notice the approaching ships and judge the situation.

The system cutter was both the most likely intercept, being closer and burning in-system. It was the least threat. The Shadow Wolf's plasma cannons and pulse guns were sufficient to deal with a vessel that size. The military ships burning outward from in-system were going to take longer to intercept, and each was a significant threat to them.

"What do you think, Felix? Can they catch us?"

"I'm crunching the numbers to make sure, but given they're burning hard and we're still on plasma…" Felix shook his head. "They'll get us just at the Lawrence limit."

"Status on deflectors?"

"We've got some, but Pieter needs to finish work on them," Tia replied. "If we get into a fight, we'll lose."

Henry nodded in acceptance of her point. He rubbed at his forehead in frustration, trying to calm the small ache he felt there. He'd hoped to be too far out to intercept when the alarm was given. That wasn't happening. "Then we've got no choice," he murmured. "Bring the fusion drives online."

Felix and Tia both gave him an uncomfortable glance. "Jim, are you sure?" Felix asked. "We use it here, the entire galaxy will know we've got it."

"Yeah, I know, but if we don't, we're not getting out of here."

Tia tapped the key on her station for the ship intercom. "All hands, prepare for high-G burn."

Henry waited about ten seconds before he nodded to Cera. "Punch it."

Seconds passed before the acceleration of the ship pushed them into their chairs. Henry kept his focus on the holotank while Felix read off the increasing G-forces they were facing through the strained, overworked inertial compensators. The other vessels started burning harder, but their plasma drives were older models and lacked the thrust potential of a fusion drive.

The G-forces were becoming unbearable when Henry ordered, "Cut power to fusion drives. Bring the plasma drives back online." He watched as Cera gratefully did this. The G-forces pushing against them relented, a relief to everyone.

"Looks like that did it," Felix said. "They're burning as hard as they can, but they won't get into weapons range before we hit the limit."

"Good," said Henry. He settled into his chair. "As soon as we're at the limit, make the first jump. I don't want to stay in this system any longer than we already have."

Breach of Faith

Vitorino watched Carvalho's face as the report came in. His new aide liked to think he was good at hiding his feelings, but Vitorino prided himself on reading people. He could see the news wasn't good. "They're going to escape," he said, pre-empting the report from Carvalho.

"Yes, Prime Minister," Carvalho said in a subdued tone. "The report from Commander al-Rashid of the Oliveira e Carmo is that Captain Henry's vessel is equipped with a boost to its drive systems. After being challenged, the Shadow Wolf accelerated to such an extent that they will reach the Lawrence limit before interception is possible."

Vitorino folded his hands together. "Captain Henry's ship has been extensively modified indeed."

"We could order them to pursue," suggested Carvalho. "To jump to other systems in hot pursuit."

Vitorino shook his head. "Do not be foolish. We don't know where they're going, and there are dozens of systems they could have jumped into."

"Trinidad Station seems the most logical destination," Carvalho said. "If we sent the da Gama and her squadron, we could easily…"

"We are not sending our cruisers to Trinidad," Vitorino insisted. "Nor any other ship. Things are too advanced now to change anything. I need the fleet here. And on that matter, what is the status of the Beja?"

At the reference to Lusitania's lone dreadnought, Carvalho checked a file. "Still in dock, as expected."

"Do they suspect our people yet?"

"No. The military still believes it to be a glitch."

"Good." Given his frustration, Vitorino poured himself another glass of wine. "Anything on that code yet? Do we have a leak in the Defense Ministry?"

"No, sir. It was something worse." Carvalho's face was blood red, and his eyes looked as if they would explode from their sockets.. "From the files we've cross-referenced it to… the code appears to have been placed in the system by Caetano."

Vitorino pulled the glass from his lips just as the fluid started to touch his tongue. "What?"

"I have other codes being checked. From what we can determine, Caetano had a number of authorization and override codes planted inside Defense and Home Ministries' systems, including Traffic Control authorizations."

"And you knew nothing about this?"

"No, sir." Carvalho swallowed. "Nothing."

Vitorino set the glass down. He did not often lose his temper, but at this moment, he felt like he wanted to as he never had before. "How did Henry find these codes to use? Who else knew?" She can't be alive. The bombs left no one alive!

"I'm not sure. I will investigate, of course—"

"Do so, and arrest anyone who impedes you!" Vitorino motioned to the door. "Now get out. I need to think."

Breach of Faith

The holotank beside Henry showed that the Lusitanian ships were still out of weapons range as the Shadow Wolf crossed the limit. "Are we ready for the jump?" he asked.

"Everything ready," Felix said. "Jumping in ten seconds."

At the ten-second mark, the Shadow Wolf's drive punched a hole through space and time to another star system. The ship flew into the wormhole a few seconds later.

The post-jump blindness obscured the instruments for about five seconds before showing the system. Which, it turned out, was not quite as empty as Henry had hoped. A single vessel was present, a hundred thousand kilometers away. Henry watched its course shift. "We've got someone on an intercept course," he said.

"Turnin' away from them," Cera said. "Fusion drives at your command."

"Hit 'em," Henry said. He'd rather burn the drives a bit more than risk jumping too early, given the state of the Shadow Wolf's power systems.

The lack of increased G-forces immediately told Henry something was wrong.

"I'm gettin' a safety fault from th' drives, Captain,” Cara said with a glance backward.

Henry triggered the intercom. "Pieter, fusion drive's down."

"It's probably one of the electromagnetic vanes; we've been pushing the system awfully hard lately. I'm heading to check on it."

"We're at full burn on th' plasma, Captain," Cera said.

"And they're still closing," Tia pointed out.

Henry noted the same. This was a fast ship they were facing. Military-grade plasma drives, he was betting. Or a particularly low-capacity fusion drive. Either way, the intercept would come before they could jump out safely.

"Incoming communication," said Felix.

"Put them on," Henry said as he considered whether to try and jump out anyway.

The voice that responded was familiar, and more to the point, brimming with anger. "This is the Morozova, and I am Piotr Sergeevich Tokarev! Shadow Wolf, come to and prepare for boarding!"


The demand of the Old Believer pirates drew a sigh of disbelief from Henry. "Of all the…"

"They mean business, Jim," Felix said. "They’ve already acquired us. I'm betting they're going to start slinging missiles our way any moment."

"We could jump," Tia suggested. "They won't know where to follow."

"Yeah, but given the state of our power systems, I don't want to push the drive," Henry said. "Besides…"


"Given what we're planning, we can use these guys. They hate the League as much as anyone." He glanced at Felix. "Put me on."

Felix pursed his lips together with a smirk, skepticism evident on his face. ”We’re live.”

Henry wasn't sure it would go anywhere, but wanted to try. Truth is, we need them. "Morozova, this is Jim Henry, Captain of the Shadow Wolf. I'll repeat what I said last time. The woman you know as Karla Lupa isn't working for the League."

"Because of her, the Cornish government is threatening my world! They believe us responsible for the loss of Kensington Star!"

"That's not her fault. The League sent people after her," Henry protested. "Why else do you think they were attacking us in TR-778? They tried to snatch her on Lusitania too. Listen, they're our enemies—"

Breach of Faith

On the Morozova bridge, Pavel sat quietly while Piotr listened to Captain Henry. The pain in his brother's voice was clear to him. The death of their Harr'al convert, Vasily, wounded Piotr deeply. He'd directed Vasily to help Lupa, after all, and felt responsible for getting Vasily involved in a way that caused his death. He would not be satisfied until he knew Lupa’s allegiance for certain.

Pavel's worry was that Piotr's anger was clouding his judgment. He wanted someone to punish for Vasily. "The data we recovered from those godless bastards we spaced," he said softly so his voice wouldn't carry over into the channel. "It included a file with Lupa's face. She was a target."

"Or they were sent to extract her," Piotr said.

"If that is so, brother, then why did they disable the Shadow Wolf? Look at her. Even now her systems are compromised."

Piotr's eyes narrowed. He glanced toward their officer at the scanner displays, Semyon T. Kuybyshev. Without needing to be addressed, the younger man spoke up. "My scans show the ship's inertial compensators are not operating to full efficiency. Their power systems are functioning at less than sixty percent. The League weapon we were attacked with could have done something to them."

"It may be a trick of some sort," Piotr said. "Another League scheme."

Pavel shook his head. "Brother, I—"

Piotr's clenched his fists. "She caused Vasily's death, brother! Father Nikolai is devastated, and the Church in Sektatsh mourns!"

"They do, brother. We all do," Pavel replied, soothing his brother's anger and pain with calm in his voice. "But consider the evidence we have seen. The League is behind these disappearances, and they seek the Lupa woman. They attacked this vessel to claim her. If she were working for the League, why would they need to do so?"

"To betray them and have them taken!"

At that moment, the channel to the Shadow Wolf re-opened. But it wasn't the voice of Henry this time, and it wasn't in English but accented Russian that they heard "Karla Lupa" speak. "Piotr Sergeevich, Pavel Sergeevich, I am Miriam bat Ariel Gaon, former Coalition Intelligence Service. Tell me… is Vasily dead?"

Piotr's face twisted with anger. "He is. Because of you."

"That accent." Pavel spoke up so he could be heard. "And your name. You are Jewish?"

"From New Israel, yes. Karla Lupa was my legend, to avoid League agents. I am known to them as the Traitor of Lowery."

Pavel's eyes widened, and he looked to Piotr. "Brother, if she speaks truly, the League would certainly hate her! Their defeat at New Arabia was because of a Coalition agent on Lowery!"

Piotr's face was still twisted into an angry scowl. "You lied to us about who you were. And that you speak Russian."

"I am a former spy, Piotr Sergeevich. Lying is something that comes easy to me, Adonai help me. Vasily… what happened?"

Piotr refused to answer, so Pavel did. "He was found dead. Shot in the head."

"Adonai rest his soul… I know you have little reason to trust me now, but this is bigger than us. Than this. The League is plotting with Duarte Vitorino, the new Prime Minister of Lusitania. To what end, I don't know, but it will certainly lead to increased League power in this region. Cyrilgrad will be in peril. We have to stop them."

"Why should I believe you?" Piotr asked harshly. "You've lied already."

"Because you've seen enough to know that I was telling the truth about the League. You saw their weapon in action, and the civilian ship they modified for their own purpose. Now the governing officers of Lusitania have been nearly wiped out by a bombing, with the only survivor being the Trade Minister known throughout the region for his dealings with the League. You know this can't be a coincidence." As the woman spoke those words, a dark, thoughtful look came over Piotr. "I understand your anger about Vasily. He was a good man, and he is dead because of his involvement with me. If I could change it so that I was the one who died, I would. I… I am tired of good people dying because of me."

While the woman's Russian was accented, and at points Pavel struggled to understand it, he could feel the weariness in her words. He gave his brother a careful glance but said nothing.

"Captain, we have a firing solution," said their gunner, Nadya Vasilyev. "Missiles are locked, and particle cannons are coming into range."

Piotr visibly wrestled with his anger. He couldn't ignore the evidence they had. The League was indeed plotting. But this woman had deceived them once already, and it could all be a trick. Trusting her, trusting the people who were protecting her, was asking too much.

Piotr silenced the line and looked to his brother. "Brother, I am torn. Are you?"

Pavel's tone remained reserved as he spoke. "I still feel fury at Vasily's fate, but he would want us to serve the needs of Cyrilgrad and the Church, brother. Consider the facts. Consider that the League have military ships prowling about the region, but have yet to make a move against Cyrilgrad. She is right. They plot, Piotr, and God help us if they succeed in whatever it is."

Piotr went silent for several more moments, leaving Pavel to consider his thoughts. He could see the shift in Piotr's expression that told him the conflict was over. Piotr's finger triggered the channel again. "Captain of Shadow Wolf, this is Piotr Sergeevich Tokarev," he said, speaking English once more. "We are standing down. I have one request, however."

Henry was the one who replied. "And what is that?"

The Tokarevs shared grins. "That you tell us what your plan is," Piotr answered. "If you are out to hurt League, we wish to help."

Breach of Faith

With the Tokarevs breaking off their attack, Miri was no longer needed to deal with them. She returned Oskar's commlink to him and said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied. She could see the sadness in his eyes. "You were being honest with them. I can tell. You would exchange your life for this Vasily?"

"I would. I'm tired of people dying because of me."

"Yes. The Socialization camp." Oskar lowered his eyes. "I was in the rotation of medical staff for one before I fled. I saw the things they did to people there. It opened my eyes and introduced me to guilt."

Miri put her hand on his shoulder in sympathy. "Then, from one guilty being to another, thank you for your help." She slid off the table before he could protest. Her leg was moving now, though it was still stiff. "I need to see someone. I won't go far."

Oskar nodded and glanced toward Caetano. The haggard woman, effectively an exile now, was sound asleep on another bed. "I’ll be here if you need me," he promised.

Miri nodded in acknowledgment before walking out the hatch. It wasn't a long trip to the galley.

Kepper was there, still under al-Lahim's watchful eye, eating out of a small container of what looked to be yogurt. He glanced up when she came in and flashed her a companionable smile, as if he hadn't attacked her, shot her, and did everything he could to drag her to the League to be tortured and spaced.

That wasn't why Miri frowned at him, though. Nor was that the reason she stomped up and leaned over the table. "Did you kill Vasily?"

Kepper stared at her, unperturbed. "Who?"

"The Harr'al who was watching out for me in Sektatsh," she elaborated. "He was a convert to the Russian Old Rite Church. Did you kill him?"

The response was more bemusement than anything else. Kepper gave her a small grin and leaned back in his chair. "He was a loose end. You've been in the game before. You know what happens to loose ends."

"He was harmless," Miri retorted. "He just wanted to live his life."

Kepper shrugged. "Yeah, well, life's not fair. We roll with it the same as anyone. It’s not like you can do anything about it anyway. Nor would you. You're after bigger game, and I'm the guy who's going to show you the way."

He’s right. Miri hated herself for knowing it. She straightened her back and turned to walk away.

"So what will you be doing once this is over?" Kepper asked.

She turned back to face him. "What do you mean?"

He glanced up. "I mean, you've got skills. Put them to use in the right way, and you can become a very, very rich woman."

"Maybe, but I became a spacer so I wouldn't have to use them ever again," she answered.

"Huh. Real shame, then." Without another word, Kepper returned to his food.

Breach of Faith

The return of the Shadow Wolf to Trinidad Station received substantially more fanfare than the ship's usual arrivals.

Henry suspected the Morozova's presence had something to do with that. With both ships berthing on Arm 3, Henry, Tia, and Miri didn't have to go far to meet up with the Tokarevs. In person, they weren't quite as intimidating, physically anyway. There was an intensity in the elder brother's eyes, which, coupled with his thick beard, gave Piotr the kind of aura a particularly formidable priest or monk might possess. Pavel, with a matching beard, had the countenance of a learned man and a clever one. They were as interested in his appearance and Tia's, it seemed.

Finally, Piotr extended a hand and spoke in halting English, "Is good to meet you, Captain Henry. Look into you after we talk. Good things, mostly."

"I've heard the same about you," Henry answered diplomatically. In his view, it was more of a mixed thing. The Tokarevs had a reputation for being the nicer kind of pirate, as in the type willing to accept protection money and who didn't kill you to enjoy it. But then again, sometimes they weren't the nicer kind of pirate, especially with those they suspected of working with the League. They tended to space people they connected with the League, as well as Leaguers themselves.

Beggars can't be choosers in this fight. Henry listened to Miri say something in Russian. It was not a language he was familiar with.

She noticed his interest and tilted her head toward him. "I'm offering to translate for them. Their English is, as you noticed, fairly spotty." Piotr said something, and she nodded to him. "They've agreed."

"Here comes Linh," Tia said.

Chief Khánh did indeed approach, a collection of armed men and women behind her, along with what Henry figured was the Dockworkers Guild representative he asked for. She gave them a perturbed look. "You're back already, your ship's been messed with, and you've got the Tokarev brothers with you," she said. "What've you done to be so unlucky?"

"That's not the half of it," Henry said. He held up a data disk. "Once you see and hear these logs from the Shadow Wolf, and the ones from the Morozova… well, that's why I asked to see the Council of Guilds and brought the Tokarevs along. This is bigger than any of us."

Khánh looked to the man beside her. When he spoke English, it was with a Keralan accent. "Everyone, I'm Jagdish Sathasivam, Chief Secretary of the Dockworkers Guild. Explain to me what's going on, and I will have our people bring you before the Council of Guilds."


The benefit of modern medicine, even in neutral space, was in the speed with which Ascaro's prosthetic hand became useful to her. After a few days of testing and therapy, she could use it to a reasonable level. Then, within the year, a cloned replacement would be ready to be attached.

It was a small piece of good news to balance out the bad. Lusitania was still under martial law. While the police were treating her supporters lightly, they were still subjected to the full weight of military rule, including the mandatory sundown-to-sunrise curfew planet-wide. There was no news being given about the surviving Cabinet ministers, if there were any.

With her hand functional and the other wounds healed, Ascaro was at least free to leave the hospital. She’d made arrangements for an automated taxi to pick her up and bring her to the rented apartment home she used while in the capital. Once home, she would have to get to work.

The sad truth was that she was the only leader of a democratic party still alive, as the Democratic-Labor Party and the Party for Democratic Reform had lost almost all of their legislators in the bombing, and the survivors were not their leading members. The same held for the Socialists, who were a mostly-Democratic party—Ascaro thought their economic policies too easily lent themselves to undermining civil rights. Their lead legislators were dead or so severely wounded, they were still recovering.

Therefore, for the next several days, at least, Ascaro was the only person alive who could rally the democratic parties. She had to act accordingly.

This was why she felt hesitant when, instead of her standard taxi, an automated limo pulled up, complete with a backup driver whose sole job was to take over if necessary. The flag of Lusitania fluttered on the corners of the vehicle. A door swung open, and a figure stepped out. She recognized him as Mustafa ibn Omar el-Kabir, the chief of staff to President Vargas. "His Excellency was gratified to hear of your recovery, Madame Assemblywoman," el-Kabir stated in accented Portuguese. "He would like to speak to you now."

To say this situation was highly irregular was an understatement. The President of Lusitania did not usually summon Assembly members, even party leaders, to personal meetings, not without Cabinet approval.

In fact, by practice, there was little the President could do without Cabinet approval. Theoretically, he was in charge, especially with the government decimated. By law, he could even assert complete control until elections were held, if the Cabinet was indisposed. But that would fly in the face of centuries of Lusitanian parliamentary practice and be a violation of Vargas' approach to his office in the process.

So if he was inviting her, Vargas was either going much further than he usually did as President, or whatever Cabinet was left was behind this. It could be a way to make me disappear.

El-Kabir seemed to recognize her worries. "His Excellency understands your concerns, Madame Assemblywoman. These are troubling times. That is why he wishes to see you. I am here to ensure the RSS does not interfere."

Ascaro considered him for a moment. His voice, how he spoke, the tone of his words. She wanted to reassure herself she was judging him correctly, knowing the high stakes she was facing. Martzel and the kids are in Zalain by now. Hopefully, they stay there.

Ultimately, she knew she was in no position to turn down the President of the Republic, much less insult him. She flashed a small smile at el-Kabir and said, "I'm honored." After he gestured, she slipped into the limo. It was a state-owned vehicle, with deflector shielding to protect from small arms fire, electronic counter-measures to thwart man-portable missiles, and luxury to fit a monarch. She eased into the plush leather seat and spied the mini-bar, which had several delectable choices from the finest liquors and wines available.

When el-Kabir offered to pour her one, she refused. He put the glasses down and said, "If that is your choice, but don't feel you need to abstain for my sake, Madame Assemblywoman. I'm used to seeing Christians and others drinking alcohol."

"I'd rather not risk my sobriety," she assured him.

"Ah. Wise. These times certainly require sobriety."

The vehicle moved on, under automated control, with the backup driver ready to assume control in a crisis. From the windows, Ascaro could see Gamavilla and noted how empty it felt. Sundown was still an hour and a half away, yet it seemed nobody was out. The military and security services, the police, martial law seemed to chase everyone off.

As if he were reading her mind, he said, "Yes, it is an unfortunate product of the martial law decree. But it will at least keep the people safe."

Ascaro eyed el-Kabir carefully, to see if he had anything further to say, but he didn't.

The Presidential Palace wasn't far from the Parliament Building. It was modeled after the magnificent palaces of old Lisbon back on Earth, with a touch of Moroccan palatial elements to give it a different feel. The vehicle pulled up to the private entrance. Uniformed soldiers of the Army's Capital Defense Regiment greeted them.

Through a series of halls, which grew more and more furnished and well-carpeted as they went, Ascaro found herself brought into a room with a large, artisan-made paneled window currently covered by a curtain.

Emiliano Vargas was in a leather chair awaiting her arrival, it would seem. He glanced at her and smiled, making her think of her grandfather with his crown of silver hair around his bald head and the thick silver beard and mustache. "Assemblywoman Ascaro, thank you for coming," he said. "I'm gratified to see you are doing well."

"Thank you, Mister President," she said, switching to Vargas' preferred address for in-person communication. "I didn't anticipate such an invitation."

"It is overdue," Vargas said. "Prime Minister Raisuni, God rest his soul, thought it unwise for me to extend the invitation while you remained a harsh critic of the government. But I find your ideas and stances interesting."

Ascaro bit down the bitter, angry part of her. The part that was tired of being condescended to for daring to stand up for the civil rights of Lusitania's people. "What do you consider interesting about my politics, Mister President?"

"That they are expressed with such intensity and passion despite the political environment," said Vargas. "So many of our people consider the Estado Novo as necessary to protect us from the war. You wish to dismantle it."

"I believe we don't need to give up our rights to remain neutral. All this talk about foreign influences and the need to restrain them is to justify the wielding of state power, nothing more," Ascaro said, unable to keep the fervor from her voice. "It's an old story, Mister President. For centuries, the cry of 'national security' has been the appeal of the oppressor."

"You don't believe in securing the institutions of our nation?"

"There's a difference between practical security, to protect people physically, and persecution over opinions," she asserted.

Vargas seemed to consider her words with a thoughtful look crossing his old face. "I recall the days before the Estado Novo was established," he said. "There were years where we had three elections and four different Governments. The Socialists would call for general strikes whenever they lost a vote in the Assembly, and regional governments would refuse to cooperate with national rulings they didn't like."

Ascaro nodded. "Yes, and it could be chaotic. But our nation worked. Our people expressed their political opinions openly and freely. They didn't have to hide them for fear of losing their jobs or being arrested. They didn't have to worry about being beaten by the RSS for so-called 'anti-constitutional activity'."

"We never faced something like the League entry into Sagittarius then," Vargas pointed out. "Their war with the Coalition threatens to pull in every human-inhabited world, if not more. The agents of both operate among us, even with the Estado Novo's laws. In the old democracy, they'd be suborning entire parties."

This was a familiar argument to Ascaro, and a difficult one. Both belligerents had appealing cases to sway neutrals with. The Coalition waved the banner of freedom, choice, and religion. The League appealed to those who wanted to change the system and end economic inequality, promising a galaxy of equals sharing the wealth of their worlds. Each had means of appealing to the populace of the neutral worlds.

After considering his words, she spoke again. "Sometimes, you have to have faith." Her eyes focused on Vargas, as if she were pleading a personal case to him, not discussing political ideas. "You have to believe in people. Our people. You have to believe they'll do what's right for our world."

"That's not an easy thing. People disappoint. They act for short-term benefits. Such behavior is why Earth got to the point our ancestors left it."

"Maybe so. But what's better? An active democratic community, where many voices are heard and many ideas expressed, which might allow for persuasion to reach the people? Or an authoritarian state where the only voices are the ones the leaders want speaking. Only their ideas are expressed, and instead of persuasion, they employ force? How would we end up if such people were in charge, and their desire for short-term benefit ruined our world?"

A chuckle came from Vargas. "Well put, Madame Assemblywoman, well put." He looked up as the door opened. "Ah, the Prime Minister is here."

Ascaro turned, wondering who survived among the Cabinet. When she saw Carvalho, her heart sank. He was Caetano's chief of staff. Caetano would be undefeatable if she was wielding the ultimate power and had the bombings to justify her suppressions.

Thus she was relieved, if perplexed, to see Duarte Vitorino follow him in, dressed as elegantly as always. He spotted her, and the genial look on his face slipped slightly. "Assemblywoman Ascaro," he said. "I was unaware you were already here." He looked with some consternation toward Vargas.

Vargas smiled pleasantly. "I arranged for the Assemblywoman to get a ride here. I'm afraid I got your time of arrival wrong, Prime Minister. My apologies."

Ascaro stopped herself from staring at Vargas. Just what kind of game is he playing? He'd broken the usual protocol that governed the Presidency's relation to the Cabinet by seeing her privately without consulting the Prime Minister. Was he trying to undermine Vitorino? Or was he setting her up to be in conflict with the former Trade Minister?

Other thoughts came to her. Vitorino as Prime Minister? Even if he was the only surviving minister, that didn't sound like something he'd do. He struck her as the type who preferred others to deal with the daily grind of ruling the country as a whole. She could see him as a grey eminence within a cabinet, pulling strings behind the scene through business contacts and private meetings, but sitting in the PM's chair?

There was also Carvalho's presence. He was, to her experience, nothing but a coldly vicious fascist loyal to the PdDN. What was he doing working for Vitorino?

As the seconds passed, Ascaro forced herself to consider her situation. She had to act to prevent any further issues, but not until she knew more about what was going on. "My apologies as well, Prime Minister, I was unaware we had a Government. I can assure you the President and I did not discuss any policies of your administration."

Which they hadn't. The President had asked her overall view of things, and they'd discussed the state of things now and before the Estado Novo, but there'd been no reference to legislation or stated policies of the standing government. Nothing that would be a breach in constitutional etiquette between the President and Prime Minister.

Her disavowal won her a suspicious, skeptical look from Carvalho, but Vitorino's response was to restore his smile and nod. "It’s not like I've made any policy known to you," he said. "You can't discuss the parliamentary agenda if there is none." He offered his hand. "We've had our differences, Assemblywoman, but it still pleases me to see you alive and whole. Your loss would dullen our world."

"Thank you," she responded. She decided not to correct him on the "whole" part by showing her prosthetic left hand. "Congratulations on becoming Prime Minister."

"It was not my intention. My ambitions were mostly met," he said, sighing. "But as the only surviving Cabinet minister, I had to step into the role for the good of our world."

"Are you going to announce your survival soon?"

"Within a few days, when the RSS finishes their security report," he confided. "I intend to announce elections to be held in thirty days."

Ascaro couldn't hide her bewildered surprise. "That soon?" Under the State of Siege Readiness Bill, Vitorino had ninety days before he had to submit to an Assembly review of his actions, which meant he didn't need to call elections for at least sixty days.

"I see no reason to wait too long. The people need to know their voices are still being heard in the halls of power," Vitorino said. "It will help stabilize the situation."

Ascaro nodded, and as she did, the realization came to her that this wasn't a selfless gesture, or even an attempt to relieve himself of the premiership. This is opportunism. The PdDN was shattered. Caetano and al-Idrisi were dead, as were al-Tawfeek of the National Liberals and Silva of the Conservatives. Those parties were leaderless, and the PdDN would be particularly hard-pressed, given how much power Caetano wielded. Thirty days wouldn't be enough for anyone to reorganize effectively, much less put together a campaign. The Nationalist-Republicans, on the other hand… Vitorino, as Prime Minister, was automatically their leader, and their organizing committee would recognize that. They could run an easily-effective campaign.

Vargas moved where she could see him. The glint in his eyes made it clear he’d made the same calculation.

Meanwhile, Vitorino continued. "Given the circumstances, Madame Assemblywoman, I would appreciate it if you were to join my Cabinet."

Ascaro pursed her lips. "In what fashion?"

"I will retain my former ministries, as well as Defense and Home, as permitted by the State of Siege Readiness Act. I would give to you Commerce, Finance, Labor, and Planning. Vasco Domingues of the Conservatives will get the Foreign and Justice Ministries. Saniyya al-Amin of the Socialist Party will be Education and Technology Minister."

In short, Vitorino was putting her in charge of the economy and its various aspects, and she'd held two of those ministries in previous Governments her party had participated in. But it meant he got to keep control of the armed forces, the police, and the RSS. Ascaro immediately decided to test him and see if he might share those powers. "Might I ask for the Home or Defense Ministry? In exchange for one of the others? I know you've always felt Commerce and Trade should be together."

He chuckled. "I have, but I'm afraid I must insist on retaining control of our military, security, and police forces to ensure rapid reaction in the event another crisis strikes. You have my word, when the election is over, regardless of who has what ministry, my intent is to relinquish all but the Trade and Culture Ministries, or perhaps Trade and Commerce."

His logic had an impeccable backing to it, if Lusitania was dealing with a threat. The bombing indeed showed someone wanted the government destabilized. But Ascaro was still intensely suspicious of him. Vitorino never cared for real power before. Why refuse to share it now?

She had an impulse to say no, to retain her freedom of action instead of aligning with Vitorino. However, that could be dangerous. It would declare her hostile to him, a threat to his emergency ministry. If I accept, I have more options.

She noticed Vargas move behind Vitorino and Carvalho, as if to admire the window for a moment from a new angle. But he turned toward her and almost imperceptibly inclined his head. He wants me to say yes. But he couldn't verbalize it, since that could be construed as interfering, because Vitorino would then know Vargas wanted her to be a minister.

She grinned slightly. "You can't blame me for trying.” Her tone was flippant. "I accept." She offered her hand again.

"Splendid." He shook it warmly. "I look forward to working with you again. Now, we should get going. We’ll have to arrange a secured residence for you. When we go public, I believe our unity government will ease the worries of the populace."

"I'm sure it will."

"The people will be pleased to know you both are alive," Vargas observed. "I am pleased myself that your injuries have not impaired you."

Ascaro considered that, even as Vitorino smiled pleasantly. "I apologize, Prime Minister. I didn't think to ask about your injuries. I hope you're doing well?"

Vitorino smiled and nodded. "A head injury, but my physician cleared me to remove the bandaging this morning. Medical technology has healed the issue."

"I'm glad to know it," Ascaro said, even as she further considered the situation. Why did he bring up his injuries? Is there something more here? There was no time for further thought on the matter, though.

Vitorino gestured toward the door.


The Council of Guilds was the closest thing Trinidad Station had to a government. They decided matters relating to survival for the station, essential issues like acquiring resources, how to sell the resources they acquired through mining and harvesting, and laying down the rules necessary to keep the station functioning.

Now Henry, Tia, Miri, and the Tokarev brothers were at the interview table before the Guild. It looked more like a town council than a prominent legislature. They were seated along a long curved table facing the interview table, just as plastic and functional in manufacture.

The names for each Guild leader were present at their place. Sathasivam was to their right. At the center was the Chairman of the Council, one Thomas Lowell, the Chief Secretary of the Growers Guild, responsible for the station's aeroponics and agricultural efforts.

The interview table had a holoprojector built into it. It was currently displaying the logs from TR-778, showing the League Q-Ship firing its EMP. The footage frizzled and vanished. When it came back, it showed shuttles approaching the Shadow Wolf, with one already attached to its airlock. The nearby quad-pulse gun turret turned and fired low-energy shots that blew the shuttle apart. Most of the other shuttles went inactive after another EMP shot ripped through them on its way to nearly disabling the Shadow Wolf again.

The expressions on the faces of the assembled leaders grew more troubled with each passing moment. Frowns appeared upon the arrival of a League destroyer. Henry made sure to play the audio of the vessel identifying itself and demanding their surrender. The Morozova's appearance came next. Its engagement of the League ship was followed by the Shadow Wolf's escape.

Next came the logs from the Morozova, showing their perspective of what happened and the short fight with the League destroyer. The end showed both League ships jumped out of the system, leaving the Morozova and several crippled League shuttles.

The Station Security and Defense Guild's Chief Secretary was a Saurian, Mavik Ts'shris, who turned his ruby-red eyes to the Tokarevs. Henry thought he looked to have about ten years and a hundred kilos on Yanik. "You have prisoners?"

"Had," Pavel said in English.

Everyone knew the Tokarev approach to people from the League. Mavik hissed in disapproval. "If you kept them, human, we could have interrogated them more thoroughly."

Piotr's eyes glistened. Venomous hate filled his voice when he spoke, evident even to those who didn't understand his Russian, which was most of the room. Miri sighed and translated for everyone. "He would not pollute his blessed ship with the presence of Leaguers for longer than necessary."

"They would not talk. So we spaced them. Just as Leaguers space members of our Church," Pavel added, his voice just as cold. "Leaguers hate God so much, they can discuss with Him."

Henry didn't allow himself a reaction. The Tokarevs' bias was so notorious and strongly felt, it was going to make this harder than it needed to be.

A French-accented voice spoke up. "This could be forged." The speaker was the head of the Physicians' Guild, Doctor Camille Toussaint, an older woman, and Coalition expatriate from the Franco-Caribbean minority on New Antilla. Her head turned as she looked to her peers. "Every bit of it. They could be trying to drag us into some attack on the League."

Sathasivam shook his head in disagreement. "Were it just the Tokarevs, Doctor, I would be wary myself. But I know Captain Henry's character."

"How is he any less biased?" Toussaint asked. "He's ex-CDF. He fought in the war. The League's always been his enemy."

"Not after I got out of the war," Henry said. "Doctor, I've got no love for the League, but the last thing I want is for this to be happening. I'd rather not be in this situation in the first place, and my crew shares my feelings."

The leader of the Engineers' Guilt, Malala Khan—no relation to Samina—looked to Toussaint. "I have computer engineers who can verify the logs," she said. Since she controlled the station's technical personnel, her remark was no surprise to Henry. "From where I sit, they look genuine. It would also explain the disappearances."

"But why would the League be doing this?" The speaker was the Tal'mayan Chief Secretary of the Mining Guild, Liri Tasa, a female with a teal complexion and striking purple hair arranged in what looked like a crisscrossing pattern of cornrows. Her words were spoken with a timbre not found in human voices, the result of the physiological differences in the two species' vocal cords. "What do they gain?"

"Exactly the reason for my skepticism," said Toussaint.

"A greater plan." The note came from the head of Trinidad Station's permanent fleet, "Commodore" Jack Dulaney, a man of brown complexion with graying dark hair and blue eyes. As his title suggested, Dulaney was the most senior of the Trinidad captains, which was why he was made the leader of the Trinidad Spacers' Guild. Henry knew him by reputation as "Mad Jack" for some of the hair-raising stunts he pulled off with his privateering ship, the aptly-named Mad Hatter. "This feels like one part of a wider operation."

"It is, Councilmembers," said Miri. "Duarte Vitorino is part of this conspiracy. The bombing that brought him to power in Lusitania is another element of their plan."

"If there's any Lusitanian minister I could buy working for the League, it'd be him," Tasa said derisively.

Toussaint was less than impressed. "I consider this woman's presence another warning sign that we're being duped," she remarked. "By her own admission, she is with Coalition intelligence."

"Was," Miri corrected. "I retired."

Toussaint's responding glare was full of skepticism. Before she could say anything else, Lowell said, "It's clear we need to verify this evidence before we act upon it. I ask the rest of you to return to your ships until we make our decision."

"Of course, Chairman," Henry replied.

Breach of Faith

The party returned to the Shadow Wolf to find Linh present with the others. "They want to see the evidence?" Linh asked, although it was more prediction than anything.

"It's a lot to take in," Henry said.

"Do not defend their cowardice," hissed Piotr. "They are like all neutral people. Fools, more frightened of Coalition shadows than clear League threat!"

"They're also one space station with a fleet of, at best, a couple dozen armed civilian ships and a few disarmed, then rearmed surplus military starships." That observation came from Caetano. For understandable reasons, she was refusing to leave the Shadow Wolf. "You're asking them to fight the League of Sol."

Pavel was the one to reply. "We have no choice. We must fight, or League will destroy us all."

"The League's done a good job playing itself up in Neutral Space, though." Felix shook his head. "They play to all the old fears about the Coalition swallowing up worlds."

"Lowell won't fall for that," Linh said. "You're lucky it's coming out now. Three months ago, Dr. Toussaint was the Chairwoman, and I doubt you'd have gotten anything like a fair hearing. Lowell comes from Croydon."

"Ex-Coalition world," Henry remembered. "They withdrew after the Saurian Wars."

"Yeah, they didn't want to support the economic aid to rebuild Sauria." Felix nodded at Henry. "Proclaimed themselves neutral in the war. The League took over anyways about ten years back."

"Which is why Lowell's ready to hear you out. Dr. Toussaint, she left the Coalition for a reason, and she's always been suspicious of Coalition influence."

"Given the way she talked, I imagine she was Peace Union," Henry said, referring to the alliance of activists and politicians in the Coalition who believed the CDF was intentionally instigating the League to continue the war. What they were depended on someone's point of view.

"I can find out," al-Lahim began. "She might have been one of the Peace Union radicals who tried or threatened to sabotage military installations."

"If she is friendly to League, God help us, we may have to do something about her," Pavel muttered.

"You'll do no such thing," Linh snapped. "Whoever she was before, Doctor Toussaint is one of ours now, and she's done a lot to make life better for Trinidad Station's people. You'll keep your damn hands off her."

Al-Lahim gave her a skeptical look. "I understand your position, Chief, but consider what'll happen if she's pro-League. Are you sure she won't warn them we're coming?"

"I said she was leery of the Coalition, but that doesn't mean she won't see the evidence for what it is," Linh insisted. "If Khan's computer people clear it, she'll be upset, but she won't stop us from acting. She knows damned well we have to keep the League out too."

It was apparent the Tokarevs weren't convinced. Henry thought he could see wheels turning in al-Lahim's head too. "I don't think anything like that will be necessary," he said. "We need Trinidad Station to be a part of this, like it or not. They're probably the only secure station we can gather at that the League won't be watching like a hawk."

"Is true. League spies on Cyrilgrad at all times," noted Piotr.

"That said, we'll still need more ships, even if they commit everything they've got."

"Cyrilgrad has ten ships. Will devote all," Pavel assured them.

"And if Dulaney puts the word out, you'll probably get another two dozen vessels," Linh added. "Independent privateers and spacers with armed ships that work with us. Some of them owe a lot to Mad Jack."

"I am making further inquiries," noted al-Lahim. "I may be able to get you some vessels."

"I may have a few ships I can call in," Caetano added. "I'll need someone to be my face for the calls, but there are captains who owe Cristina Caetano their freedom and unofficial licenses to continue their business."

"You mean you suborned privateers and smugglers to the PdDN."

Caetano nodded at Miri's words. "Yes. It would sell the result I needed for my efforts, after all, and it gave me access to materials I needed." She laughed bitterly. "It's entirely possible our fleet will include the captain who smuggled in the bombs I had planted in the Assembly."

"I'm not much in the mood for irony like that." Henry sighed. "I suppose it proves Voltaire right."

"Well, I have work to get back to," Linh said. "Including giving your fusion drive another fix-up, Jim."

"Well, this time, I've got the funds to cover it." He chuckled. "I won't be needing charity. I'm hiring a full team from the Dockworkers Guild, including you, so my people can rest."

"Don't spoil me, Jim. I might be tempted to overcharge."

"We will return to Morozova. Call when Guild Council ready to meet," Piotr said.

With that said, everyone dispersed save Henry, who turned to his ship and started looking it over. Linh, after approaching the exit, turned back, and walked up to him. "Are you going to bring Samina with you for this quixotic charge against the League?"

"No," Henry said. "Never. I've told her to stay here, and we'll pick her back up if we live."

"Ah." Linh nodded. "Good. Honestly, if I'd known the danger…"

"I know," he said, relieving her of the need to finish the sentence. "Although without her, I'm not sure we would've escaped TR-778."

Linh's jaw tightened, and she nodded. "So Tia'd be dead or a captive if I hadn't sent Samina to you, huh?"


"Well, I suppose that may take some of the edge off my guilt." Linh turned back to the exit. "I'll be back later to begin the inspection of your drive. Try not to break anything more, alright?"

Despite everything, he chuckled. "Of course."


It didn't take long for Ascaro to be assigned new lodgings. The RSS picked for her a suite in the Hotel Duro, a rival of the Royal Lusitanian. They selected the second-best suite in the entire hotel for her, a magnificent multi-roomed dwelling with the best luxuries to be found on the planet. She felt scandalized by the expense to the taxpayers.

To make up for the feeling of wasting her constituents' money, Ascaro threw herself into her work. The four ministries she'd been given were desperately seeking direction, and it was up to her to provide it. While the RSS forbade vidlink communications, since someone might notice the features of the Hotel Duro, she was allowed to communicate through re-routed text and audio links. Most of her first days in office were taken up with such communications and receiving information from the permanent secretaries, the dedicated civil servants who put into motion the policies of their parliamentary superiors. Between these conversations and her need to read reports and daily meetings with Vitorino and the rest of the small emergency Cabinet, she was working fourteen-hour days. Closer to sixteen hours, in truth.

It was exhausting work. Lusitania's economy was suffering grievously from the stock market shocks after the bombing, reduced economic activity under martial law, and the system lockdown effectively paralyzing their interstellar trade connections. It was no wonder Vitorino was rushing to an election: Lusitania couldn't afford to stay under martial law. It fell on her to try and keep everything stable until things returned to normal.

As a new morning came, she watched the dawning sunrise over Gamavilla. She'd been up for two hours already from sleeping difficulties and, with the aid of rich Arabica coffee grown in the tropics of Beja, had achieved that bizarre balance where the sleepiness in her brain seemed to make her mind more honed and active than it should be in her state. She was already pushing the limits of her knowledge in assembling a coherent policy for the ministries Vitorino left in her care.

But now her focus slipped. Not in the direction of the sleep her brain was craving, but in the thought that something deeper was going on. There were still no reports on complicity in the bombing. The RSS, and thus Vitorino, were not making any public statements about the issue. Were they truly in the dark, though? Or was there something more going on?

The more she thought of that, the more she saw her situation in a different light. Vitorino handing her all of these critical offices, and with them the power to deal with the pressing issues of Lusitania's domestic and economic situation, could be a gesture of good faith on his part, or it might be an attempt to distract her, to overwhelm her with the duties of running these four ministries. Now she didn't have time to rally the Party for Democratic Unity or any of the other democratic parties. She had a planetary economy to keep running.

The idea chilled her. She'd accepted Vitorino's offered ministries because she felt it was the only way to get a chance at knowing what was going on and influence decisions. But Vitorino wasn't consulting her like that. He asked about economic affairs only and wasn't confiding defense issues, even though she was responsible for helping to fund and enforce them. He'd neutralized her as effectively as if he'd arrested her. More effectively, since she was now a Minister of his Government. This curtailed her ability to effectively criticize him publicly. She'd be made to look grasping and ungrateful.

What have I done? I walked right into his trap.

What game is Vargas playing? He'd wanted her on the Cabinet. Was it because he and Vitorino were in collusion on something? It would explain why Vitorino let him get away with violating standard protocol in the President's interactions with the Opposition.

No, she was sure there'd been some real irritation from Vitorino when he'd seen Vargas had talked to her alone.

But can I risk it?

She had no opportunity to answer that question for herself. Her secure commlink lit up with an incoming message. The Finance Ministry's draft of an economic impact report was ready for her. She let out a small sigh and went to prepare her breakfast. Another long day loomed ahead.

Breach of Faith

After a pleasing lunch, Vitorino returned to the examination of reports, Carvalho attending him as always. "She does marvelous work, doesn't she?" he asked suddenly.

Carvalho blinked. "Who, sir?"

"Why, Minister Ascaro," replied Vitorino. "She was a tolerable Commerce Minister, back when her party was in the Government. Now she juggles the ministries I've given her with decent skill." He chuckled. "I suppose when she doesn't have protests to direct or political screeds to issue, she’s an effective Cabinet Minister."

"I still think you should have rewarded Domingues more extensively. Too much power in Ascaro's hands can backfire."

Vitorino laughed. "Her power is pointless. She has almost no armed personnel save the field investigators of the Revenue Office. I control the military, the RSS, and the security service. And she knows that. Nor will she have time to gather the kind of support she'd need to leverage her ministries against me." He reached for his one post-lunch glass of port and enjoyed a drink of the sweet, strong beverage. "Not with the operation so near."

"Admiral Hartford is not happy over Gaon's escape," Carvalho interjected. "He fears she will do something to disrupt it."

Vitorino might have laughed about that, if not for the fact of the codes the Shadow Wolf used to escape. They implied a security breach in the government, which might yet endanger everything, or even worse, that Cristina Caetano was still alive. "Still nothing about the code problem?"


"I don't suppose she could be alive," Vitorino mused. "Your former leader."

"Impossible," Carvalho insisted. "The bombs in the Cabinet platform were too powerful. We found genetic traces that matched hers."

"All that proves is she bled," Vitorino pointed out. "Take precautions, just in case. I don't want to leave anything to chance. Are the arrangements made for the investigation?"

"Yes, sir," he said. "We'll reveal the evidence of her responsibility for the bombs after the operation is complete. It should destroy what's left of the PdDN."

Vitorino smiled broadly. "Along with the Socialists and democratic parties."

"Yes. With the election so soon, and support for you so high when it comes, I can't imagine you'll have a coherent opposition to deal with. Anyone you endorse will win an Assembly seat. You'll be able to pick your own government."

"Perhaps I should hope Caetano is alive so I might thank her," Vitorino stated, pleased at the prospect of avoiding the difficulties of assembling a coalition government as his own late chief Raisuni had been forced to do, repeatedly. "She made this so much easier for me."

Carvalho chuckled and said nothing else.

Breach of Faith

While the repair crews worked and the Trinidad Station Council of Guilds awaited the verdict on the evidence, the primary activities of the Shadow Wolf crew were sleeping, eating, and waiting. The ship's rec room and the galley were almost always in use.

For her part, Miri preferred to stay by herself, or to relieve al-Lahim from his duties of watching Kepper. Her former assailant was unnerving in his quiet demeanor, and she didn't envy al-Lahim the task of observing him regularly.

After he returned from a meal, al-Lahim pointedly said, "The First Mate's having everyone watch a holovid together. Rothbard won first choice and picked The Exodus Fleet. You've seen that, I hope?"

Miri nodded and smiled. "It's a Yoseph Tannenbaum vid, Abdul. It's hard to grow up on New Israel and not watch at least one of his films. Especially not the Founding Trilogy." She shook her head. "I think I'll pass, though. If you'd like to see it—"

"Oh, I've seen it more times than I can count," al-Lahim said. "It's required viewing in schools, remember?"

"Maybe elsewhere. The government on New Israel never bothered making it part of the curriculum. Everyone watches it anyway."

Al-Lahim and Miri shared a short laugh. "I'm fine," al-Lahim insisted. "Go ahead and join the others."

Miri had no intention of doing so, but she didn't say so. She gave him a thankful smile in reply and walked out of the room.

She'd been aboard the Shadow Wolf long enough to know her way around. She walked past the rec room as the sounds of the holovid played through the open door. She briefly glanced to see the Shadow Wolf crew watching the vid intently. She recognized the scene—the argument over the Fleet's direction, which while a foregone conclusion, managed to be one of the most engaging in the film—and nearly stopped to watch before deciding to continue. She honestly preferred the middle vid, Lands of Promise, more, since it covered the colonization of Canaan along with the other major worlds of the Coalition.

After considering and rejecting getting something from the pantry, Miri found herself approaching the bridge. The door was open, and, to her surprise, the LCD surface of the bridge's front wall was active. It showed a visual of Trinidad Station and nearby vessels. It shifted to show the Trifid Nebula from the orbit of Galt. "Who's here?" she asked aloud.

The right-hand command seat turned. Caetano moved her hand away from the control. "I was just examining the visual database," she said.

For Miri, the experience felt odd. She'd seen vids of Cristina Caetano here and there, especially during leaves on Lusitania. She'd always come off as a person in complete and utter control of everything. Herself, her surroundings, her followers. One got the feeling it was only a matter of time before she ruled her homeworld.

But none of that was present now. Just a deep, almost hollow look to her eyes.

It took Miri a moment before she recognized the look. It was the same kind of blank stare she'd had for weeks after extraction from Lowery. One she still sometimes saw in the mirror. With that realization in mind, she said, "It's always hard when it's over. When the mission's ended, for better or worse, and you're back to who you really are."

Caetano pursed her lips. "I suppose you and I share that in common, yes." She laughed. "Except I used my own given name for my 'legend,' as you put it. I suborned everything I was to the image I needed."

"You became your legend. I, sometimes I felt like I'd done the same," Miri admitted. "It was so easy, especially after the camp. After all of the people I denounced to the League." She slid into Henry's chair, taking care not to touch any of the controls. "I almost forgot what it was like to live outside of the League."

"Was it worth it to you, in the end?" asked Caetano.

"I would have to say yes," Miri said. "The outcome was more than I could’ve hoped for. I would do… almost everything the same way as I did before."

Caetano nodded at that. "Much of what I've done, I can still justify as necessary. Not everything, just— "

"You planned for the long term," Miri observed. "To rise as far as you did. What is all of this supposed to be for?"

Given the pained look that came across Caetano's face, Miri wondered if she would get an answer. After lowering her head for a few moments, Caetano raised it again to meet Miri eye to eye. "My birth name is Cristina Maria Rodrigues e Silva," she said. "My father, Antonio, owned a winery in the Tagus Valley, while my mother, Francesca, worked in local government. I was the youngest of three siblings. My older brother was Miguel, and my sister, Sofia." Old, happy memories tainted by later misfortune were clearly going through her head as she talked. Miri could see it from the haunted look in Caetano's blue eyes, now not as piercing as they'd once been.

"On my world, the authoritarian and nationalist parties like to insist the Estado Novo was a necessary response to the outbreak of the war," Caetano said, continuing. "The truth is, they were trying to undermine Lusitanian democracy long before then. The war gave them the excuse they needed to terrify enough voters into supporting the measure. I was sixteen when the constitutional reform was passed. Local governments had much of their power stripped. My mother was ordered to give a loyalty oath to the new constitution if she wanted to keep working. She refused and decided to run for the Assembly." Tears formed in Caetano's eyes. "She had a shot at winning. That's why the Falange murdered her."

"The Falange?" Miri thought the name sounded familiar.

"The first of the true fascist parties. They later merged with others to become the PdDN," Caetano explained. "They shot her, and got away with it. The central government declared the shooter was a maniac their forces shot dead a few days later. It was easier that way. So my poor father decided to run in her stead to honor her memory. A week later, just days before election day, he was with Sofia checking on the running of the winery, when there was an explosion. They burned to death in the rubble."

The tears on Caetano's face, the pain in her voice, caused sympathy to well up within Miri. She remained silent to let the other woman finish in her own time.

"My brother had to take me in. He was a student at Soares National University in Nova Lisboa. We scraped by as best as we could. Miguel inherited mother's political views, but he kept quiet about them, for my sake. The only thing he did was sign petitions. Harmless, we thought."

"Not always," Miri murmured.

"One of the petitions he signed called for the restoration of the old constitution. The Security Services decided it was proof of anti-constitutional activity. So late one night, there was a knock at our apartment door."

Miri could figure where this ended. "And you never saw him again?"

"He was eventually released," said Caetano. "After weeks of beatings and abuse in the jail and day-long interrogations about his 'anti-government activities.' It destroyed him physically. And even before the services let him go, the University expelled him for being against the Estado Novo. His life was ruined." She rubbed at her cheek to wipe away tears. "He found what work he could to help put me through university instead. For my protection, I assumed the name of my grandmother and became Cristina Caetano. Before I could go to university, new laws required me to serve three years in the military as a conscript. He died just before I mustered out."

"I'm sorry," said Miri.

Caetano gave her an appreciative look. She drew in a breath before continuing. "I haven't spoken of my family in nearly two decades. I never had anyone I could trust enough to do so with."

Miri knew what that was like, and the pressures it put on an agent. "When did you decide to… follow this life?"

"After my brother died, I briefly went home. There was going to be a vigil in honor of my mother on the anniversary of her death. There'd been such vigils every year, but this one, it was the smallest it'd ever been. And those attending looked so completely beaten. Across our entire world, it seemed everyone had given up. They were happy to cling to what little democracy they had left and didn't care about getting what we’d lost back."

"Then the Falange merged with other parties to form the PdDN, and they started gaining seats almost immediately." Caetano sighed. "I realized it wasn't going to get better any time soon. The fascists were growing in power, and my people were so scared of the war and everything else, they'd let them. My family's deaths would go unpunished. Their killers were going to win and write the history books. My choice was to either surrender to it, to flee the planet, or… do something about it." She let out a low chuckle. "I was young, believed myself invincible, and desperate. So I hatched a plan to infiltrate the PdDN and expose, well, whatever I could. Humiliate them. Maybe enough that they'd stop growing in popularity."

"But it didn't work out that way," Miri said.

"No. It didn't. I wasn't the only one in the organization to leak their activities, it turned out. I watched as they accomplished nothing, nothing but their own beatings and deaths. Nobody cared about what they uncovered. Some even cheered the fascists for it. Within a year of joining the party, I saw my plan wouldn't work. Not unless the PdDN did or planned something so terrible, they would lose most of their followers. And if they weren't planning to do something like that—"

"—you would make it appear as if they were," Miri said.

Caetano nodded. "Which required me to climb to the top of the party. I had to embrace their ideology in a way that left me sick." A wry chuckle came from her. "It's scary how good I was at it."

"You could be quite convincing, I've heard," Miri agreed.

"They started making me a keynote speaker because of it. They put me in the Assembly. On the Party Governing Committee. Dr. Rocha, the founder of the unified party and our leader, eventually named me his successor. Because I was so devoted." Caetano's voice betrayed her disgust. "Sometimes I can't believe how well I fooled them." She laughed bitterly. "It really is a simple ideology, I suppose. Insist on absolute authority as a patriotic duty, dismiss dissent as treasonous, and encourage everyone to hate and fear foreigners. Simple solutions to complex problems, and people still line up for it."

"Because it's easier," Miri said. "The League is nearly the same."

"Yes." Caetano shook her head. "I had to become someone I hated to bring down the people who destroyed my family. I hurt others to do it. No, I didn't personally do so, usually, but I was the one inciting it. Encouraging my party members with rhetoric that guaranteed they'd begin to assault political opponents. Whipping them into a frenzy of hatred so they'd make a plan to seize control seem plausible to everyone else."

The admission didn't surprise Miri. She had her own demons tormenting her. The ghosts of Christopher Tobay and Annette Zens.

"They come to you in your dreams, don't they?" Caetano asked. "The shades of the people you helped to kill."

Miri pursed her lips. "Yes. You?"

"A couple. But they're background to… to my family. In my dreams, they're alive again, and I don't have this ridiculous double life. In my nightmares, I watch my followers kill them again, as they denounce me for betraying everything they held dear. I plead their forgiveness, and the others turn on me, taunting me that I'd failed, and it was all for nothing," Caetano swallowed. "And now they might be right. Vitorino has turned my plan against me. He's seized power and plans to align with the League."

"We may be able to stop him," Miri said.

"I hope we do, if just for my peace of mind." Caetano turned to the controls and tapped a key to bring up another recorded visual. This was of Lusitania itself. "Because I can't go back. Never. It would destroy everything I worked for, everything I sacrificed for. The people of Lusitania must know Cristina Caetano as a failed tyrant."

"What about Cristina Silva?" asked Miri. "Could she not return to her hometown and start her life anew?"

"And run the risk of someone recognizing me?" Caetano laughed and shook her head. "No. I can't do that. I can't take the risk. For the good of my people, I'll never be able to go home." Even as she spoke, tears filled her eyes again. Miri could imagine Caetano's thoughts. All of the places she loved while she was growing up, and she was going to lose them for good. Nothing but memories made bitter by her exile.

"Then what will you do?" Miri asked.

"If we survive?"

"If we survive, yes."

Caetano shrugged. "I'm not sure. Al-Lahim pledged me sanctuary in the Terran Coalition. I suppose I could move to Brasilia and start a new life." A sly smile came to her face. "I also find space fascinating, so maybe I could do as you did. Become a spacer."

Miri smiled at that herself. "It can be an experience."

"Either way, it'll be something new," Caetano said. "And I'll do it as myself."


Pluto Base

Neutral Space

19 August 2560

Chantavit Li arrived at Pluto Base to find everything moving forward with final preparations. The fleet of stolen ships was assembled in formation, while the cruiser Marat and her squadron of military vessels were already gone. He felt approval at that. Regardless of the Gaon situation, the plan was proceeding smoothly, and the League was set to deliver two blows at their opponents.

The fleet was gathered near the rocky moon of the system's fourth planet, a Mars-like world with a greenish coloration. The Trifid Nebula provided a spectacular backdrop due to their proximity to it. Pluto Base itself was a great silver toroid with a central spire connected to the torus by four cylinders. Each end of the spire was tipped by a rectangular module, one for the reactor assembly powering the station and the other for the Socialization facilities necessary to turn the captured crews into members of Society.

After getting approval for his landing approach, Li brought his ship in toward the torus proper. The landing bay was ready for him. After easing through the atmospheric forcefield, Li shut down the vessel and departed.

By the time he stepped out, Commander Aristide was waiting for him. "Commander," he said politely. "All is going according to plan?"

"Of course." She motioned to the door with her right hand. "The Admiral is waiting for us."

Li nodded and followed Aristide through the base. A mag-rail car took them from the torus to the central spire, and it wasn't far from there to Hartford's office. Hartford was seated reading reports when Li entered. Li could immediately tell there was something wrong. "Admiral?" he asked.

"Where is Gaon?" Hartford's expression was stern. "You were supposed to bring her."

"She escaped due to Vitorino's bungling," Li said. "I've ordered our remaining assets on Lusitania to hunt her down."

"Ah. You blame Vitorino, then?"

"It is his fault," Li insisted. "As usual, he's more worried about his personal desires than our mission."

Hartford narrowed his eyes. "He says differently. In fact, he says you bungled the execution of the Shadow Wolf's captain while your people let Gaon escape."

There was something in Hartford's voice that Li didn't like. "Of course, he would blame me. He has no sense of Social responsibility. If he did, his people would have immediately worked with mine. It was their failure that let Gaon escape. As for the Captain of the Shadow Wolf, he was rescued by another party. Coalition Intelligence, I would imagine."

"So, you are deflecting blame onto him." Hartford stood from his chair. "Commander, I am willing to show leeway to subordinates when they fail, if the failure is from circumstances beyond their control. From what I have seen, you cannot claim this. Your failures are from your own overbearing ego and inability to look past your prejudices to those outside of Society. Because of your errors, Miri Gaon is free to pose a threat."

"She's trapped on Lusitania, Admiral," Li insisted. "Vitorino has the system locked down, and he'll never let the Shadow Wolf or any other ship depart. Not with the plan at this stage."

"Arrogant presumption continues to be your greatest flaw, Commander," Hartford said. His controlled expression turned into a scowl. "Vitorino reports the Shadow Wolf departed barely an hour after you did."

Li's eyes widened. "What? That's not possible. It has to be treachery!"

"Vitorino believes Coalition Intelligence arranged a deception that fooled his traffic control personnel. By the time he found out and ordered an intercept, it was too late to intercept the Shadow Wolf." Hartford smiled thinly. "We are fortunate they have little idea what our plan is, but now they know Vitorino is working with us. This is an undesirable complication."

"Should we abort?" asked Aristide. "If our plan is compromised—"

Hartford waved a hand and shook his head. "No, Commander, it's too late to abort. I received word today from Admiral Seville. The Destruction has departed for her rendezvous with the Coalition peace envoy. Operation Ehud has already begun. Our mission must proceed on schedule if we're to take advantage of Seville's actions." Hartford looked back to his monitor and the ships visible outside. "The Q-Ship fleet leaves in two days for Lusitania."

"I'll be ready to go with them," said Li.

"That won't be necessary," Hartford replied. "I'm sending Commander Aristide to oversee the operation. You will replace her as my External Security liaison."

"It's not the military's place to assign External Security officers!" Li protested. "The Director—"

"—agreed with my request," Hartford finished for him, turning to face him. "Your record of the last two weeks has been fairly questionable, Commander, with your repeated failures. You still have allies at External Security who see you as an officer of great Social consciousness, so I can't charge you with incompetence or wrecking, but I have all the justification I need to request your removal from the field phase of this operation."

Li smoldered. But given Aristide's expression, he knew Hartford's arrangements were a done deal. He nodded. "My place is not for me to decide, but society."

"As it is with us all. You are both dismissed."

The two External Security commanders left Hartford's office and entered the corridor outside. Li's smoldering anger was clearly noticed by Aristide, who nodded at him in a way he felt was to show understanding. "The Admiral is greatly worried about this Miri Gaon," she explained. "She caused him a great loss, you may recall. He gives her presence great weight."

Li nodded, and his smoldering turned to disgust. Aristide was being careful due to the system surveillance, but her words told him that Admiral Hartford's concerns about Gaon stemmed from individual considerations, not those of duty. "As long as he does his Social duty, all will be understood," Li said in careful response.


That made Li grin a little. Hartford might have authority now, but if Internal Security ever had need to investigate his conduct, that would change.

After the operation was completed, Li might have to arrange an investigation.


The call came from Chairman Lowell himself. Henry and Miri brought along Tia this time, with the Tokarevs bringing along one of their officers, a Semyon Kuybyshev. They sat at the interview table and noted a larger crowd this time. Presumably, senior Guild officials were asked by their leaders to observe the proceedings.

Once again, the logs were played, during which Henry had nothing to say. He tried to get a read on the Council. They weren't happy, but whether or not it was from some kind of internal division, or simply the results being something they disliked, he couldn't tell.

When it was over, Khan called one of her computer techs in, a man who shared Henry's African ancestry. He spoke English with an accent that Henry figured came from Nyere or one of the other colony worlds settled by Africans before and after the Exodus. "Everyone in the computer division is in agreement," he said. "The logs are genuine."

"Thank you, Mr. Lumwe. You may go."

All attention was now on the interview table. "I've already taken measures to ensure no word of these logs gets out," Mavik informed his colleagues. "But I can't guarantee it remains silent unless the Council approves a complete shutdown of all our interstellar communications equipment."

"That's rather excessive," Tasa said.

"But necessary. We've had League agents on Trinidad before."

Sathasivam nodded. "I'll second the call, but I'd like to rule on whether to act or not."

"Act in what way?" asked Lowell.

"Contribute ships to a fleet to thwart the League," Sathasivam answered. "We can't let them get away with this piracy. Or interfering in Neutral Space politics to this extent."

"I am in agreement," said Dr. Toussaint. "If the evidence is authentic, it's clear the League poses the greater threat."

"We could bring twenty ships from our main force," said Dulaney. "I'll lead them from the Mad Hatter. And we have allies to call in. Discreetly."

"We're in no shape to fight a war," said Tasa. "We reap the storm by confronting the League of Sol."

"It's a storm that's coming anyway, Liri," Lowell said. "The only question is if we can be ready for it. That means preventing whatever it is they're up to." He directed a look at the interview table. "Captain Tokarev, Captain Henry, if we agree to summon our fleet and aligned ships, what can you do to help us?"

"I will bring Cyrilgrad's ships," Tokarev said. "We must stop League, will sacrifice all to do it."

"Personally, I only command the Shadow Wolf," said Henry. "But between my First Mate and a couple other people I'm in contact with, I should be able to cast a wide net to get us some good talent among the independent spacer fleet. Anyone with an armed vessel that can help bring these Q-Ships down. Some of 'em will want a payday from it, but we could get a good amount of salvage, I think."

"The same will be true for all of us," said Dulaney. "Division of spoils will be necessary."

"We need no spoils," Piotr declared. "We fight to stop League. That is all that matters."

"We should have a firm goal in mind. Are we just to reclaim the stolen ships?" asked Mavik.

"Finding out what the League's up to would be nice. And recovering the missing crews," Henry suggested. "If they're still alive, then their testimony will seal the deal. Everyone in Neutral Space willing to listen will know that the League was behind it all."

"Then boarding parties will be necessary," said the old Saurian. He turned to Lowell. "I suggest we send the station militia out with the fleet. Together with whatever the others in the fleet can bring, we can take the ships back. Or a facility, if there is one."

"We bring boarding teams as well," Pavel said.

"We can carry some in our front holds," Henry offered. He was answered by nods.

"Shall we call for a vote, then?" Sathasivam asked. Henry saw him staring over the heads of those at the interview table. He glanced back into a gathering of stern expressions. These people believed in the evidence, and they were ready to act on that.

Lowell nodded his assent and Sathasivam made one immediately. Khan seconded. One by one, the hands of the station's guild leaders rose, the applause and approval from the gallery growing louder as they did. Tasa's came up last, as it was clear the Tal'mayan woman wasn't interested in the expedition but recognized the necessity of keeping a united front with her colleagues.

"Commodore Dulaney." Lowell turned his attention to the Spacer Guild leader. "In light of this ruling, the Council requests you make ready your ships. Secretary Ts'shris, the Council asks the Security Guild to call up the station defense militias. And, shut down all interstellar communications as of now."

"It will be done," Mavik answered.

"The fleet will make ready," Dulaney added. He glanced around the table. "Captains, I'd like you to attend our war councils. It'll take a day for me to gather all our ships in. We'll hold our first meeting tomorrow."

"We'll be honored to attend," answered Henry.

Piotr nodded in agreement.

Breach of Faith

Henry finally got out of the initial war council meeting and went to the lift back to the docking arms. The ride back gave him a chance to consider the outcome of the war council. Basic command and control was established, at least with every captain present so far agreeing to follow Dulaney's lead. Whether any new arrivals would do the same remained to be seen. The Tokarevs provided findings from one of their supporting scientists on how deflectors interacted with the EMP cannons. This would allow them to strengthen their deflectors against those weapons, a critical edge, given how capable the weapons were.

With the commitments they could confirm so far, the estimate was that they'd have at least fifty ships with them. Old military surplus, militarized civilian ships, salvaged ships; it would be an ad hoc force that would defy any organized tactical formation he knew in the CDF. They’d have to make up for it in other ways.

Which worried him. There were at least two League military ships out there: the cruiser Miri saw when the Kensington Star was taken and the Cobra that tried to intercept them at TR-778. Odds were they were part of a squadron of at least four ships, maybe five or even six. If they intervened, then the fleet as it was now might be in huge trouble. Military starships had the defenses and firepower to easily defeat most of the vessels present. A cruiser could overcome any of them. It would take everything they were projected to have to put down such a military detachment, and victory would rely heavily on the benefits of inverse-square laws—which would be undermined if any of the captains weren't willing to accept orders.

The lift came to a stop, and Henry walked on down the pathway to the repair dock where his ship was located. He felt thankful that Vitorino's payment had been an irrevocable funds transfer, since it gave him plenty to pay for repairs—and the station, while cooperating with him on the League issue, was not in a position to give him anything for free. It also let him give everyone a break by hiring a full repair team from the dockworkers to do all of the rewiring and fuse replacements to deal with the lingering effects of the League EMP weapon.

Two members of the repair team were busy on the exterior of his ship using the gantry cradle to fix the unseen hull breach in the stern hold. Two more were putting a fresh coating of material on the surface of the ship while Yanik observed. Henry stepped up beside him and asked, "Anything special?"

"A member of the Morozova crew provided us with new field settings for our deflectors," Yanik answered. "It will, we believe, increase their effectiveness against the electromagnetic weapon."

"Hope it works." Henry said that and, much to his chagrin, let out a yawn. He rubbed at his eyes while Yanik's yellow eyes focused on him. "Yeah, I think it's time for some rest."

"You have done much, Captain, and there is much more to do. Get your rest. Felix and I will see to the repairs."

"Thanks." Henry continued, stifling another yawn as he did. Just as he reached the airlock hatch, he turned. "Has Samina gotten her stuff out yet?"

"She informed me she would wait until near departure. She wishes to help with repairs."

"Well, no harm there," Henry said. "But make sure she's off the ship before we leave."

"It will be done. And you, Captain, should go to your bunk now, before you think of other things you wish done."

Henry chuckled. "Yeah, I probably should," he agreed before turning back into the airlock.

Breach of Faith

At the table in her suite, Ascaro gave her children a heartfelt goodbye, even as little Carmen urged her Mama to let her come and stay with her. To the request, she shook her head. "Not yet." The sadness in her voice betrayed her desire to say otherwise. "You can come back later, when it's safe."

Martzel quickly ushered the children away. He disappeared for a time before there was a distant sound of a door shutting. He returned moments later. "How are you doing?" he asked. "Truthfully?"

"I am either on the verge of accomplishing everything I dreamed of or I’m in a trap I can't escape," she answered honestly. "I'm working sixteen hours a day running four important ministries while trying to keep our planet's economy from collapsing. I have RSS guards outside of my door at all times. For my protection, of course."

"Of course." He kept his tone level, but the look on his face made it clear Martzel knew what she meant. "I'll reassure our friends of your health."

"Please do that," she said. "The secrecy will lift soon enough anyway. Vitorino is holding a rally and press conference to announce the Emergency Government's membership and call the elections."

"I can come be with you."

"No," she urged. "Not yet. Not until I know for sure what is going on." Vargas is worried about something, but what? "Stay in Zalain until I call for you. The children need you more than I."

"We all need you, Paulina," Martzel insisted. "Please don't push us away."

"I’ll do what I must to protect you," she insisted. "I promise I will call you back to Gamavilla when it's safe. Until then, pray for us all, my love."

Martzel clenched his jaw as if to begin arguing. "Damn your job," he finally sputtered. "Please, Paulina, don't make yourself a martyr. Lusitania doesn't deserve you."

"Maybe not, but then it's my job to make her a place that deserves me," she assured him. "Goodbye."

She cut the line just in time. The doors to the suite opened, and RSS agents stepped in. A third agent, a woman, pushed in a cart with Ascaro's meal on it. "I've scanned it, Madame Minister. All is safe."

"Thank you." Ascaro tried to remain polite to the RSS agent, even if she couldn't help but see her as a jailor more than a protector. "Your name is…?"

"Generally speaking, Madame Minister, we do not personalize with our subjects," the woman answered. "As I am aware of your dim views of my organization, however, allow me to introduce myself to ease your mind. I am Senior Agent Camila Palmeiro, and I command the security detachment protecting your person."

"Senior Agent Palmeiro." Ascaro nodded. "I hope you understand why my views of the RSS are as 'dim' as they are?"

"You believe us thugs out to crush our own people. It is unfair, Madame Minister, very unfair. We sign up to protect our world."

"I did the same," Ascaro answered. "I would rather be in Zalain living peacefully with my family, not here. But our world needs people ready to stand up for the civil rights of all Lusitanians."

"Just as it needs patriots ready to stand up and protect our world from the threats that would ruin it," Palmeiro answered. "That has always been the purpose of the Estado Novo."

There was silence between the two women. She is refreshing, Ascaro decided. Even if she is wrong, at least she is not barking in rage at me for not agreeing with her. She finally ended the silence. "So it is said."

"For what it's worth, Madame Minister, I understand you are, in your own way, a patriot. Simply a misguided one," Palmeiro remarked. "The Estado Novo is necessary, and it does not exist simply to abuse democrats, although there are always excesses out of zeal. I cannot apologize for acts I did not commit, but I do feel regret at those displays." The woman bowed. "Pardon me and enjoy your meal, senhora, I have duties to return to."

"I will see you later, then," Ascaro remarked. She watched Palmeiro go. Vitorino must be tittering with laughter at assigning me an honest RSS agent.

With that thought, she turned to her meal before it could cool.


Word spread swiftly through the station that the Guild Councils were rallying a fleet. No one yet knew why or where, only that it involved the missing ships, which more than justified the situation to the station residents.

Al-Lahim noticed signs of the station's mobilizations as he walked the streets of Quetta District. Notifications were out, calling the militia to service. Spacers among the local population were joining Dulaney's fleet to bring his crews up to full strength. Apprehension was also there: Trinidad Station had faced many threats over the last century and a half, but never a situation that called for it to do the equivalent of full mobilization.

His reason for coming was varied. Spiritually, he enjoyed the chance to visit one of the district's mosques and join in prayers. There were mosques on Lusitania, but the political issues there made visiting them dangerous for him. Here, he could come freely and make one of his daily prayers in the company of other believers, none of whom might be a PdDN member or an RSS operative.

Once he saw to spiritual need and duty, al-Lahim ventured to an eatery. The food was all local, so it had the peculiar taste of vat-grown meat and hydroponic- and aeroponic-grown vegetables. It was still quite decent.

His contact walked in. She wore a headscarf like most women in Quetta District, joined by a one-piece spacer's jumpsuit of green coloring. Anyone wondering her religious affiliation would find the question answered by the sheathed kirpan hung from her belt. Al-Lahim gestured to a chair for her to sit in. "I recommend the biryani. And the paneer is the best I've had off-planet."

"Abdul." The woman sat, giving no indication she was going to take up his suggestions.

"Kaiya." He leveled a bemused look at her. Kaiya Kaur Chagger was a long-time contact of his. She had her own ship, a Federated Interstellar-model midweight transport called the Majha that had been substantially modified and thus armed. "You don't look happy to see me."

"More like I'm not happy that I've been called to Trinidad Station," she said. "Especially with my cargo. The last thing I need is pirates."

"Given the situation, pirates aren't your worry." Al-Lahim took a sip of chai and folded his hands on the table. "It's good to see you, Kaiya, regardless of circumstances. I know the work doesn't always agree, but it's important."

She sighed. Her face was round and of spacer-pale brown coloring. She was smaller than al-Lahim, but that didn't deceive him. The kirpan was primarily there for religious purposes, given she was from a Sikh family on the planet Khalistan, but he knew she was skilled with the blade and could kill with it if needed. "It's been too long since I, well, since I've been able to do anything to remind myself that I'm still living a righteous life."

"I know the feeling." As much as he sympathized, al-Lahim wished to get to business. "Did you bring the cargo?"

Kaiya nodded. "I even managed a berth at Arm 3, as you requested. But are you sure—"

"I am. And if it worries you, I'll be going with them," he said. "I'll handle everything."

"As long as I don't have to make up the excuse to the quartermasters," she said. "It looks like there's a mobilization going on around here. I'm sure I saw the Morozova attached to Arm 3."

"I don't want to go into detail."

"My ship has armament," she pointed out. "If they're gathering a fleet, you could find a way to sign me up—"

"No," al-Lahim interjected. "I've gotten some of our contacts involved, but I can't risk your operations or cover. As important as this is, there are other ops counting on you."

"There are," she conceded. "In that case, I'll be leaving as soon as I can."

"That won't be for a while," he said. "They're locking the system down until a few days after we depart. That way, no warning will have time to get to another system before we're at the target location."

"Well, my crew's been wanting a break," she said. "So perhaps I'll try the local cuisine after all."

Breach of Faith

With the arrival of more captains, another, larger war council meeting was necessary. The fleet was up to sixty-four vessels now, given all the favors being called in. It made Henry nervous, since the more they spread the word, the more likely the League would catch on.

As expected, the war council's time was dominated by the discussion of spoils. Given the number of independent spacers, privateers, and pirates in the fleet, nobody could be shocked. Minimal allotments were guaranteed to minimize the risk of a rush for spoils to be used against them, while initiative was rewarded by the promise of keeping part of what a crew individually seized. The allotment would be roughly half and half: half of what any ship took would be spread evenly to all remaining crews and the other half they'd keep.

Once that was done, and Dulaney used the discussion to leverage acceptance of his leadership, a Tal'mayan captain brought up the obvious question. "How do you know where we are supposed to go?" she demanded of him.

"We have a tracker in place," Henry said from his seat beside Tia. They were at a table beside Dulaney, showing their prominence in the planning. "It was planted on a League spy officer's ship by an ally of convenience. For security purposes, I'll provide course data as we progress."

There was some grousing about that. Henry feared it might become accusations of planning a trap, but soon the grousing disappeared. Between his reputation, that of Dulaney's and the Tokarevs’, anger over the League's behavior—or their general existence—the promise of salvage and spoils, everyone was for the attack.

The discussion went on toward the EMP weapon.

Breach of Faith

Miri was waiting when the war council got out. Henry looked to her with interest, but she shook her head. She wasn't here to see him. He and Tia went on to whatever other work they had in mind.

She walked up to the Tokarevs when they emerged. They looked at her with politeness, if not respect. Her deception, while understandable, still rankled. "I wished to speak with you both. To talk about Vasily."

It was obvious they wanted to say no. Miri expected them to. But Pavel ultimately nodded. "Follow us."

She did. They took a station transit car to another section of Trinidad, a residential/commercial one. Near the transit station was a small structure, an eatery, with Cyrillic characters alongside Latin ones. It was named "Stepan's."

The inside reminded her of other small restaurants she'd seen in her life. There were only sixteen tables available. A plump older woman approached and spoke in accented English. "A table for three?"


"Ah, finally, fellow Russians," the woman said, changing languages. Her Russian was accented differently from the Tokarevs', and it didn't sound like the Russian Miri heard among the League either. "Someone will appreciate the pelmeni."

Both Tokarev brothers chuckled. They followed her to a table, Miri at the rear. Another employee, or member of the family, brought out a samovar. "We make do with what we can," the waitress assured them, again in Russian. "We import from Belgorod when we can afford to." Miri recognized the name as one of the Russian-colonized worlds in Neutral Space, Belgorod-Sagittarskiy.

"So do we," Piotr assured her. "Pelmeni sounds excellent. And borscht." The last was added as if he didn't need to check the menu.

Pavel asked for the same. Miri decided on vegetarian borscht. Ordering vegetarian was the best method to avoid pork as a spacer without calling attention to observing any dietary laws.

The waitress departed and she was left with the brothers. She resumed speaking in Russian. "My apologies again for deceiving you. You saved my life. You deserved better."

Piotr said nothing. Pavel pursed his lips together. "Given your history, we understand. Understand we saved your life as a duty, not a favor."

"Still, you deserved better. Do you have any questions for me?"

"Are you the Traitor of Lowery?" Piotr asked bluntly. "I do not doubt the League wants you dead, but that doesn't mean you're being honest."

"I am, and I deserve the title," Miri said quietly. "To keep my cover, I betrayed people to the League. They hate me, and they're right to."

"Without you, their world would never have been liberated," Pavel pointed out.

"Perhaps not. But I was the one who betrayed their loved ones. I caused them to be hanged, just as your father and uncle were. Or to be deported to the Orion Arm and never seen again." As she said the words in Russian, she struggled with the pronunciation, given her disuse of the language. As she spoke, Miri felt the old guilt returning. "I've tried justifying it. As did my superiors. But," she sighed, "now I’m the cause of gentle Vasily's death."

Again, Piotr said nothing. His face twitched in anger. Pavel could speak, at least. "We understand this too. Vasily had a good soul. He suffered as a slave, but unlike many, it didn't take the good from him. God saw that goodness and sent us to free him so we could save his soul. He's with God now."

Piotr's eyes came up. "Tell me more about this attacker."

Miri had to walk a fine line here. Indeed, she had to deceive the Tokarevs again. If they knew that the attacker, Kepper, was the source of the tracker, they might demand he be handed over. And while she had no doubts he deserved what he'd get at their hands, the League had to be stopped.

It hurt Miri that she found herself making the same calculations she had on Lowery. She was putting the mission ahead of principles and trust. If she trusted them, trusted the Tokarevs with Kepper's presence, maybe they'd agree to stay quiet about it. They might even let Kepper finish this operation, and they could always find him later. But she couldn't risk that they wouldn't. Perhaps I am too much a spy. I’m too familiar with deception; I find it too easy, she considered.

These thoughts moved through her mind in the span of a few seconds. The expression on her face was neutral, an old habit to avoid letting her facial expressions show what was inside her heart and mind.

"Caucasian male, mid to late thirties, perhaps early forties," she began. "Approximately one hundred and eighty centimeters tall, maybe toward one-ninety. Dark hair, brown, and blue eyes. He was competent. If not for Cera McGinty of the Shadow Wolf's crew, he would've taken me." She sighed. "He had Vasily's helicar; it was how he laid the trap. It worked, because while I was suspicious, I wanted to make sure Vasily was okay. If only I'd beaten him, maybe Vasily would be alive."

Knowing what query was forming in Piotr's mind, she said, "As it was, he shot me in three places, and I almost bled out. I mostly lost consciousness in the back of their rented helicar. Captain Henry took me straight to his ship for medical help and launched as quickly as he could. I didn't have a chance to ask about Vasily or message Father Nikolai."

The brothers listened to her description and explanation with quiet focus, their only diversion being Pavel pouring tea from the tap on the samovar. By the time she was finished, he was pouring her a cup as well. She accepted it and looked at the contents, a rich brown with steam still rising from the hot tea. She took a sip. The taste was strong, a little stronger than she liked, but it was good.

"He must have forced Vasily to betray you," said Pavel as she took the drink. "And then shot him after you escaped."

"Most likely." She shook her head. "I never wanted anyone to die for me. Never again."

"It is as much my fault," said Piotr. "I should have remained in Sektatsh and kept you safe until your superiors arrived. This murderer would not have gotten past my crew."

"But he might have killed them," she said. "It's possible that if the League didn't think me extractable, they would’ve hunted the Morozova. Just as they did the Shadow Wolf."

The brothers knew what she meant. "Still, we are better able to resist such things than Vasily was."

"He struck me as a kind and gentle being," she said. "But I didn't get to know him. What was he like?"

For several seconds, there was no reply. Pavel looked at his brother with sadness. "He was my proselyte," Piotr finally said. "Years ago, when Captain Osinski commanded the Morozova, and my brother and I were junior officers, the Harr'al abducted and enslaved Father Nikolai's deacon. We went in and rescued our brother in Christ, at the cost of some blood and damage to the Morozova. We freed the slaves as well. While we were being repaired, he came to me in our ship chapel and started asking about our religious icons. I knew enough Calnin to communicate with him and explained Christianity to him." A smile came to Piotr at the memory. "It was not easy. Calnin is a very… strange language. But I made the important parts clear. I explained Christ and his message, and his death and resurrection. It was the nature of Vasily's good soul to be drawn toward that message. He wanted to know even more. He stayed even after we left Harron to perform other duties." Piotr stopped long enough to drink more tea. "I taught him Russian, with Pavel's help."

Pavel laughed. “You mean I taught him with your help, Piotr."

Piotr chuckled. Miri did too, recognizing the sibling ribbing for what it was. "Our chaplain, Father Vasily, took charge of his religious education. It was why Vasily chose that as his Christian name. But I was there for every step, reinforcing his new faith, helping him understand it." Pain came to Piotr's voice. "I still remember when we were about to take command from Captain Osinski. Vasily was there for the ceremony. He was so happy."

"It was when he told us he wanted to return to Harron and work with our missionaries," Pavel added.

"Yes. He wanted to help bring other Harr'al to the love of Christ. I know the choice terrified him."

"He didn't want to be returned to slavery," Miri suggested.

"Exactly. But he did it anyway." Piotr took another drink. "And then I brought you to him and put him in the path of our enemies. Now he's gone."

"He died with an innocent soul, Piotr," Pavel said. "He’s in a better place."

"Yes. With Papa and Uncle."

Miri swallowed. Hearing the pain in their voices and the history of Kepper's victim—her victim too—made her choice to keep the killer hidden all the more difficult. In fact, she wanted to shoot Kepper herself now, because killing Vasily had served no purpose beyond a cold-blooded "no witnesses" attitude.

But there was a greater purpose at work. A mission of higher priority. So she said nothing.

They didn't say much either, as their food came out. As it turned out, it was quite good too.

Breach of Faith

After seeing to some supply purchases, Henry and Tia returned to the transport lift. To their surprise, they found Miri waiting for them. She didn't say why and they didn't ask.

During the lift journey to the docking arms, Miri took advantage of their being alone to ask, "Do you think Kepper will come through?"

Tia gave Henry a concerned look, to which he nodded. "If he's smart, he will. He'll be coy about it, probably insist on giving us the course piece by piece. That way, he can be certain we won't space him or anything."

"He would be correct for most of us. I wouldn't space him, but I'd give him to the Tokarevs. They would be grateful, especially if they knew what he did to Vasily."

Henry could hear the guilt in Miri's voice. He could see that, in her heart, she felt responsible. He bet the Tokarevs wanted to know more about who attacked her because they desired revenge on Vasily's killer. While he was certain she hadn't told them where Kepper was, it was mostly because the Tokarevs hadn't come straight to him about it.

"We'll deal with Kepper later," Henry said. "After we survive what's coming next."

Miri bobbed her head up and down but didn’t speak.

They returned to the Shadow Wolf's berth and found a peculiar sight. A number of cargo flatbeds were pulled up to the starboard-side middle hold. On the flatbeds were long, cylindrical objects with engines on the rear and maneuvering thrusters built into the sides. Henry recognized them immediately, given their profiles.

Which was why he wasn't surprised to see al-Lahim accompanying the flatbeds while Tia and Yanik were discussing the contents with him. Henry approached with Miri and called out, "What's all this?"

Heads turned to face him. "Ah, Captain." Al-Lahim smiled. "I was just discussing with your First and Second Mates one of my contributions to this operation."

"Those are Hunter missiles, aren't they?"

Al-Lahim nodded. His smile grew. "They fell off a supply ship somewhere, I think."

Henry didn't know whether to be impressed or worried. Hunter-model missiles were some of the best anti-ship missiles in Coalition service, with excellent acceleration, maneuverability, and an advanced—but shackled due to strict Coalition laws—AI system made to avoid point defense and overcome electronic spoofing measures. A good spread of them could take the deflectors off a battleship, and annihilate a cruiser. "I'd hate to be the captain of that supply ship," he remarked, going for the joke. The Hunter was incredibly expensive, even the older models from his time in the CDF. He suspected that the "supply ship" in question was not exactly one that the CDF would ever admit to having, if it had these missiles out here in Neutral Space.

"How would we fire them?" asked Tia with evident skepticism.

"They're made to be remote-controlled," Henry said, pre-empting al-Lahim. "Once they’re launched into space, they’re fed targeting data, arming, and activation orders into their systems, and off they go."

Tia still seemed uncertain. "We don’t have missile tubes installed… so we'd have to leave the holds in vacuum with no gravity. Someone would then have to push them out manually.”

Yanik eyed the vehicles. "I could do it," he offered.

"I will man the holds in that event," al-Lahim said. "And if need be, you could restore atmosphere to deliberately decompress the compartment, should you wish to throw them all out at once."

"Colonel Goldstein did that during one of my patrols on the Sun Yat-sen back in the day," Henry remarked. "Vented our armory into space after the launchers jammed, and later remotely triggered the missiles to catch a League cruiser on its weak side." He tried to give Tia a reassuring look. "It's a viable tactic."

She raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like it."

"So we'll put them in the middle holds. The front holds I'm setting aside for some of the Trinidad militia. They'll provide us boarding parties so we can retake the ships, or even whatever base the Leaguers are using."

"I'll make the arrangements, then," Tia said. "Do we have a departure time?"

Henry crossed his arms in front of him. "Tomorrow, 1000 hours sharp.”

Breach of Faith

After working a full shift to finish the last of the repairs to the Shadow Wolf's electrical systems, Samina returned to her quarters. The scent of Tal'mayan sweet smoke still came to her in all its cloying, irritating manner. The passing of a week aboard had only just started to get her used to the smell.

It couldn't distract her for long. Samina's heart was heavy from the conflict raging inside of her. The fear that made her accept Captain Henry's decision to leave her behind wrestled with a growing shame about that. She was supposed to be a member of this crew now. With them going to face their greatest trial, how could she stay behind? They'd need all the help they could get.

You may die, her fear reminded her. Or be captured, and be thrown into one of those camps to be starved and worked to death.

I'm in space. There's lots of ways to die in space, countered another side of her mind. You have a responsibility! You have to do the right thing!

The right thing. It was what her parents taught her to do growing up. What her uncle encouraged in her, and the community in Quetta. The right thing, not the easy thing, not the thing that made her feel better. It was the only way to keep her soul free of guilt in the eyes of God. And right now, part of her was saying the right thing was to risk her life and freedom for the sake of her new crewmates. Even if it meant defying her uncle's dearest wishes and Captain Henry's decision.

It's not like I can stay aboard anyway. The Captain's made it clear I'm leaving in the morning. I mean, I'd have to sneak back aboard. And to do that, I'd have to… Samina stopped the thought as fear filled her. No, no, I can't be thinking of this! I should stay here with Uncle Ali! I can go back to being a fetch tech and find another ship one day!

Until the League takes over the station, and they get you anyway? Or drive you away as they did on Jinnah?

The warring thoughts consumed Samina for the rest of the night.


Trinidad Station

Magella System, Neutral Space

24 August 2560

From the catwalk of the forward port hold, Henry and Yanik watched the volunteers from Trinidad Station set up bunks and weapon stands. Their weapons were all directed energy, primarily charged particle and plasma rifles, befitting an armed force for a space habitat. The men and women who made up the force were the station population in microcosm.

"They will put a strain on our atmospheric filters," Yanik noted, referring to the filters used to chemically separate carbon from the carbon dioxide exhaled by most species, including humans and Saurians. This resulted in the creation of fresh oxygen to be blended back into the ship's atmosphere, extending the time needed between refills of a ship's atmospheric system. The more carbon dioxide in the air, the more carbon built up in the filters, and the more likely they might run into trouble.

"Pieter's got it handled," Henry said. "We have plenty of filters thanks to Khánh."

Yanik flicked his tongue thoughtfully. "I see. Are we ready to depart, then?"

Henry checked his watch. "0956. I'll head up to the bridge now."

"I shall ensure these people are secure."

Henry left him to it, heading out through the hatch leading into the lower deck. It was a quick trip to the stairs up and on to the bridge. Tia and Cera were already there, as were Piper and Felix. Felix remained standing near the rear as the other four took their usual places. "Time to launch?"

"Three minutes," Cera answered.

"Engineering is bringing all systems online," Tia added. "Everyone's aboard, and we have full food stores, equipment, life support, and fuel."

"Good. Take us out when we get launch clearance, Cera."

"Aye, sir."

For Henry, there was nothing left but waiting. When the time came, the gantry around the Shadow Wolf separated, freeing the ship. Piper confirmed the launch with traffic control. The doors opened, and Cera, with extreme precision and care, flew the Shadow Wolf free.

The makeshift fleet around them was the most impressive display Henry had seen since his CDF days. Seventy-four ships of varying size and mass, everything from re-militarized jump-capable gunboats barely fifty meters long to a large hauler covered with armaments. They ran the gamut from organized privateer groups like Commodore Dulaney's or the Tokarev brothers' to individual pirates or spacers looking for a quick score. A sleek Tal'mayan-built blockade runner flew beside the flying brick of a Harr'al-built frigate. "There must be twenty worlds represented out there," he mused. A smile crossed his face. "I wonder how many are here just for a chance to kick the League in the teeth."

"I can sympathize with them," Tia said. Despite the lingering pessimism that Henry could sense in her expression, she grinned slightly. "As much as we think you Coalition types are moralistic busybody god-botherers, a lot of people in Trifid know the League is even worse, whatever their governments claim."

Henry chuckled. He'd been out here long enough that he felt some sympathy with Tia's take on the Coalition. "Well, let's hope they can work together enough to win this."

For a time, nothing more was said. The Shadow Wolf took her place in a formation of ships of similar size, the furthest such group. The entire fleet burned out for the Lawrence limit. As they neared it, Henry looked to Piper. "Has our friend given you a course?"

She nodded. "He's being slippery about it too. We only have three jumps plotted, but I'm pretty sure none of the systems in jump range of our final destination would work for this kind of base."

"He's being cautious. He knows the moment we give him the final jump coordinate we could turn on him, so he'll wait until the last second to give it up."

"And what's to stop us from turning on him then?" Tia asked.

"He'll probably claim he planted a bomb somewhere critical," said Felix. "Bluff us. Alternatively, he'll gamble we don't want to deal with taking him prisoner before we get into the fight. I have to admit I wouldn't. If we board their ships or a space station, we'll need every gun."

"Agreed. I'm going to live up to our deal, and we'll have to tolerate his paranoia." Henry glanced at the holotank. The fleet was already passing the limit. "In twenty seconds, the fleet will be beyond the limit. Piper, relay the jump coordinates to everyone else."

"Doing so now." Seconds passed. "Dulaney's signaling for the fleet to commence jump."


Wormholes started forming ahead, and, one by one, the fleet departed the Trinidad system.

Breach of Faith

After feeling the acceleration and sensation of the jump, Yanik went to the stairs and ventured down to the floor of the front-port hold, where he approached a fairly small figure with a full hood on their suit. "You came back."

The person turned. "H-how did you know?" asked Samina.

Yanik let out a low laugh and tapped his nose. "Humans always underestimate our senses. Your scent is not new to me."

"But you didn't tell Captain Henry?"

"He did not ask," Yanik said. "His order to me was to ensure you left the ship before we launched. You did so. That you came back is your choice, and I was not instructed to keep you from returning."

"Oh." Samina drew in a breath.

Yanik could see the fear she felt. He could nearly smell it, he thought, even as it was evident she was fighting it down.

"You… you're okay with me coming back?"

"You are a member of this crew now. That is what matters. To refuse you a chance to join us would demean your place here."

Samina nodded. "I guess it would, yeah. So… should I stay down here with the militia or…?"

"I would not advise it," Yanik said. "Your place is with Engineer Hartzog."

She was uncertain about revealing herself. Now that she'd done it, Yanik knew it was occurring to her that she was a stowaway, at least as Captain Henry would consider it.

"While the Captain will be displeased, he will be even angrier the longer you hide," Yanik proposed. "Since I am the reason you are still here, I think I have the right to ask your cooperation on this."

Samina had to accept the big Saurian's argument on the matter. "Yeah, you do.”

Breach of Faith

Less than half an hour later, Samina found herself swallowing and trying to not think of how much trouble she was in. That came from the look of sheer frustration and anger she saw on Captain Henry's face.

They were in the galley, along with Yanik, Tia, Pieter, Jules Rothbard, and Vidia. The expressions of the others varied. Vidia was quietly supportive, Jules was calm, and Pieter looked divided between being upset and relieved. Tia was almost as angry as Henry.

"You were told to stay on Trinidad," Henry said in a firm voice, full of stern and disapproving authority. "That this wasn't part of your job. Now, you seemed to understand me before, so what made you decide to defy that and stow away on my ship at the same time?"

Samina swallowed and drew in a breath. It had been quite a while since she faced a scolding in front of so many people. She used the breath and the time she took to settle her thoughts and feelings to make what she was feeling as clear as she could. "I'm sorry I defied your orders, but… but I'm a member of this crew too, and I'm as responsible for you as you are for me." She kept her head up and tried not to think of the disapproval in Henry's eyes. She glanced at Tia's face to see some of the same emotion. "Chief Khánh asked me to take care of you. To help you. And I want to. Even if I'm scared of what we're doing and where we're going."

Tia let out an exasperated breath. "Linh didn't mean this," she said. "She'd never have sent you to risk your life like this."

"That's how I took it."

"It's a moot point, I think," Vidia said. "We're already underway. Nobody's going to jump back an' take her home."

There was silence after that. The point was a good one and there was no escaping it.

And yet, Samina knew that wouldn't be enough. "Captain, I'm sorry," she said. "But I had to do this. This is important. And you'll need every hand you've got. I want to be here, even if it's not safe. Please understand. Please, I can do this job even if it’s dangerous, you know that. I'm afraid, but I can do it."

Henry and Tia exchanged silent glances.

Tia sighed and turned away first, shaking her head as she did.

Henry faced Samina. "You're just a kid, and you shouldn't be here," he began. "Doesn't matter that you're a member of the crew. I didn't sign you on for this, and…" Seeing her intent stare, he sighed. "Listen, I know you're eighteen, and for a lot of people, that's the age when you start becoming an adult. In the Coalition, it's the age they let you enlist, or even conscript you, and I've served with those kids. Some of them weren't very good, some were good at learning, and some were naturals. I'll say you're a natural. So I know you can do the job, and it's not why I wanted you off the ship." Henry's expression turned to one of old pain. "Because I also saw some of those kids die. I saw them hurt, I listened to their screams, cries and pleas to their mothers as they were crushed to death in debris, sucked into space or burned alive, and it's hard. Damned hard. It's why I asked you to stay with your uncle, Samina."

Jules walked up to Henry and set a hand on his shoulder, a gentle expression of understanding and support.

For her part, Samina nodded in understanding. "I see. Thank you for believing in me, Captain."

"No problem there, Ms. Khan." Henry looked toward Pieter. "Any objections to having your Engineer's Mate available?"

"None at all, Captain," Pieter said cheerfully. "She's good, and we're going to need her."

"Alright then, this is handled. Everyone back to their rest or their posts." Henry went for the door. "We won't have long before the shooting starts."


The sun was out and the most massive crowd seen in Gamavilla since the bombing filled the Plaza of the Republic. With backs to the damaged Parliament Building, they directed their attention toward the carefully-constructed stage lined with the Lusitanian national flag. The seal of the President was displayed on the podium at the center of the stage, kept on a raised dais. Holocorders were arrayed around the stadium to send 2D and 3D images from the stage to the planet's communications network, to be transmitted across the world and even to other planets. Unseen generators powered protective deflector fields that would stop any attempt to bomb or shoot anyone on the stage. Ascaro stood in the back of the stage area, behind several curtains, in the middle of a protective detail that included Palmeiro. Her new colleagues were assembled with her to watch the crowd via a holo-viewer. Black-clad RSS agents, armed infantry of the Capital Defense Regiment, and the Gamavilla police were all out in force as well, securing the entire area.

However the people might feel about their presence, there were still cheers as the slim form of Emiliano Vargas stepped up to the podium. He waited for quiet to return before speaking. "People of Lusitania," he began. "We have had many terrible days since the cowardly strike against our Assembly. The Government is working diligently, on all levels, to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

"But it is just as important to our well-being that our institutions continue to function. I am pleased to announce, among the surviving members of the Assembly, a new Cabinet has been formed. A Government of National Unity will see us through to new elections and a return to normal. It is with pleasure I introduce the Prime Minister, Duarte Vitorino!"

There was applause, especially from those who feared the pronounced name would be "Cristina Caetano." Vitorino's reputation lent itself to easing their fears. He approached the podium, smiling and waving, and shook hands with Vargas before the President stepped away.

"I am before you by a miracle," he said, his words slow and precise. "I am one of the lucky few who survived this terrible tragedy. It has given me a new perspective on our world, its needs, and my place in it. I owe it to my slain peers to devote everything I am to Lusitania's recovery and prosperity. The divisions that have ripped through our people must be healed. And so, I have assembled a Cabinet of my fellow survivors with that thought in mind. We will govern for the common good until elections restore to our nation its representative government. Allow me to present my fellow ministers."

First came Domingues, who was greeted with polite applause. Al-Amin of the Socialists was next, and she received louder applause.

To her surprise, Ascaro received the loudest when she came last. She walked out, in a proper business dress suit, and took her place between Vitorino and al-Amin. Vitorino finished introducing her and the ministries she was assuming control of for the duration of the emergency government. "It is my great pleasure that Assemblywoman Ascaro survived to join this Government," he informed the crowd. "I hope to work with her, especially in bridging the gap between those of our people who believe in the goals of the Estado Novo and those concerned with their civil rights. It is not my goal to oppress or diminish the rights of the people, and I trust she will ensure we do not."

There was sustained clapping. Ascaro smiled, though she knew the words were hollow. I may control the economy, but Vitorino has the guns.

Vitorino invited the Cabinet members to make their speeches on the policies of the National Unity Government. They spoke in the order introduced. Domingues spent twenty minutes talking about his intention to pursue capital punishment against the bombers and maintain Lusitanian diplomatic initiatives, including neutrality in the war. He ended with several scolding lines about the attacks, denigrating them the "natural result" of the political violence and thuggery that gripped the planet before the bombs went off. His language was bitterly condemnatory toward the PdDN, the kind of speech that would've been unthinkable for a Conservative before.

Al-Amin, her Portuguese quite beautiful with a hint of a Moroccan accent, spoke of "democratizing" the education system by ending the regulations demanding political loyalty oaths from students. She promoted Lusitania's place as one of the technically adept worlds of the Trifid Region and the need to maintain their edge.

Ascaro was next. She checked her notes and stepped up. "I thank Minister Vitorino for giving me the opportunity to serve our world at such a terrible time," she said. "His gesture is not simply magnanimous in the light of the differences between our parties; I believe it shows his intention to protect the rights of Lusitanians, a cause I have always upheld."

From there, she commented on economic issues, assuring everyone that the situation would improve. Measures were being taken to re-stabilize the economy. She kept her descriptions short and to the point, avoiding the kind of wording that would bore.

But she wouldn't end that way. "I call upon our people to see this as an opportunity," she said. "We have allowed violence to become a part of our political process and paid the price. Now we must commit to supporting one another's democratic rights. Freedom of speech and expression must be restored to everyday life. We must vote with our conscience and allow the same to our neighbors, even if they feel differently. If we reclaim the democratic heritage of our republic, we make a repetition of these horrible events less likely to come."

There was loud applause and streaks of cheering through the crowd as she stepped away. Vitorino returned to the podium and took a few questions from the journalists given seats below him. Through them, he only confirmed that the investigation into the bombing was still ongoing and for the near future, the martial law decree would remain in place. He also indicated the surviving Assembly members and especially Cabinet ministers would be kept in secure and unannounced locations. With the handful of questions answered, he bade farewell and led the ministers off-stage.

As the crowd broke up out in the plaza, Ascaro followed behind al-Amin. They entered one of the secured commercial buildings of the square from which they'd disperse and return to their suites across the city. Vargas was waiting. "Congratulations, Prime Minister," he said jovially, offering his hand. "I believe our people will sleep well tonight."

Vitorino accepted it yet again. "Thank you, Mister President." Vitorino turned to the others while offering a handshake to el-Kabir, now at Vargas' side. "You all did well, and I'm glad to see things are working out so well. I will speak to you tomorrow."

He remained as the others shook hands with Vargas and el-Kabir, only turning away when Ascaro stepped away from Vargas. Ascaro noted el-Kabir's hands come together briefly before he pulled his right hand away again to shake hers.

The moment their palms touched, Ascaro felt something between them, a small object rubbing against her palm. El-Kabir rotated their hands slightly before pulling his away, ensuring she didn't drop whatever it was. He gave her a small nod, one that inclined toward the object, before stepping away.

At that moment, Ascaro felt in over her head. She'd seen enough holomovies in her life to know the idea of a covert exchange of something through a handshake, but she'd never imagined she'd do it. It was all very fantastical to her, completely at odds to her usual experience. She wanted to demand an explanation but knew she could not. The others were still in earshot, as was Vitorino. Clearly, el-Kabir, and possibly his boss, wanted her to have this without Vitorino's knowledge.

Forcing herself to smile politely, she slipped her hand down and slid the unseen object into the small pocket on her dress skirt. Given the feel, it was likely a data chip, the kind one used to back up files physically instead of relying on data clouds and direct storage.

She didn't let herself think about the chip as the Cabinet moved on. Each had a secured vehicle with two decoys to elude attackers, with dark-suited RSS personnel and Gamavilla police all working together to protect the ministers. Ascaro went second, just behind Vitorino, reflecting her status in the government. Vitorino was quite determined to make her his number two. In a more stable government, she suspected she would've already been named Deputy Minister, but the small caretaker Cabinet made such a posting superfluous.

"Subject is en route," Palmeiro said from the front of the car. A decoy vehicle ahead went into motion. Afterward, she glanced back at Ascaro. "Well-put, Madame Minister."

"You can refer to me as Senhora alone, if you wish," Ascaro offered.

"Duty demands otherwise," Palmeiro answered.

At Ascaro's return to the Hotel Duro, she was greeted with a meal. Palmeiro personally scanned it for poisons before leaving her to it, an excellent mutton steak with various sides, cooked with excellence by hotel staff. She started in on it while pulling her digital reader out. She nearly slid the chip in before reconsidering: this was the reader issued to her by the RSS, and it might not be secure. They might be monitoring the activity. If so, they'd know she had the chip, and it was rather obvious el-Kabir wanted to remain covert.

As she ate, Ascaro wondered just what was on the chip. What secret did the President, or at least his aide, want to share with her? How would she access it without giving her possession of it away to the RSS?

The answer came as she finished her meal. Instead of settling in to read government documents, she went into her bedroom. Sitting on her bed, she reached into the nightstand and retrieved her tablet commlink, a light green model manufactured on Lusitania. It had been in her pocket when the bomb went off and suffered a little shock damage, but only on the case. Nevertheless, its transceiver had been removed, cutting it off from the planetary link network as a security precaution.

Ascaro booted the device up. When the machine insisted it couldn't find a network, she triggered it to finish starting anyway. Once active, she slipped the data chip into the appropriate slot. The tablet read the disk and displayed a file directory. There were only a few files, all marked like medical records. Curious, she opened one.

Soon she realized what they were, and it astonished her. El-Kabir had given her Vitorino's medical records. Not just any records, but the records from his post-bombing medical examination. They noted a head wound and some light bleeding, various other bruises, and cuts. All what she'd expect.

It was only toward the end that she realized the significance of this, and it scared the hell out of her. The doctors, noting complaints about pain and damage, examined Vitorino's head—and found no sign of significant brain injury. Not even a slight concussion. Only one small cut.

Vitorino claimed at the President's he'd suffered a severe injury. That he'd just removed his bandages. But there's no sign of this in the file. Why?

The answer came to her, and it horrified her. Without the head injury, Vitorino had virtually no real wounds whatsoever. But the bombings made that impossible. The data all showed the blasts were too near the speaking podium, and he'd held the floor at the time. He should be lucky he survived. But this was more than luck.

Ascaro wanted to be sick. Indeed, she thought her stomach might reject the mutton, return to sender, which would be unfortunate because it was quite good. The ramifications were clear, and they were terrifying.

Vitorino hadn't survived the bombing by fortune. Which meant that, most likely, he'd survived because he knew it was coming. He was part of the bomb plot.

She swallowed to settle the fear building inside of her. She'd wondered if the danger was past. Now she knew it wasn't even close to being over.


As the fleet's journey continued, Jules found there was little he could do to contribute on the Shadow Wolf. He contented himself with making himself available to the boarded Trinidad militia as a spiritual advisor. It was a unique experience, given all he knew of their home was that it was considered a stateless pirate station by other governments. While they were undoubtedly rough in some ways, they were clearly not violent thugs as the reputation would suggest. This was not a shock to Jules, since his own convictions were that all souls had the capacity for goodness in them, even if the rest of the personality or the environment of a person suppressed that goodness. God made life in His image, after all, and as far as Jules was concerned, that didn't mean two legs, two arms, and a head—especially not given the alien species that didn't conform to basic humanoid shape. To him, it meant the part that was in God's image was the soul.

He pondered these things while quietly reading his edition of the Bible in the rec room of the ship. The ship's First Mate, Tia, was likewise silently reading, although her book was primarily economics and politics. She'd politely discouraged his offers for spiritual guidance with the kind of look that told Jules she'd be more caustic with someone else. Given what I hear about Hestia, I can see that. The pain her world's state gives her is palpable.

That consideration ended when Jules noticed another figure enter the rec room. Caetano had likewise found little to do, given that they shared inexperience in manning spacecraft. But where Jules could at least tend to spiritual needs, all she had was herself and her thoughts, and given what he learned about her, those were quite treacherous. He watched with quiet interest as she checked the bookshelves. Finally, she picked up a digital reader and sat down near him, picking an old cloth-surfaced recliner that had seen better days. She started scanning through the available contents of the Shadow Wolf's library computer. Jules turned away and returned to his thoughts.

"I'm sorry, Reverend."

Caetano's words brought his attention back to her. "You're sorry?" he asked.

"For everything that was done to you and your mission by the PdDN. For using you as leverage over Captain Henry."

Jules folded his hands together in his lap. "Your apology's accepted, of course." He watched as she looked away, an uncertain look in her eyes. "Are you a member of a Church?"

She shook her head. "Like many Lusitanians, I was raised Catholic, but it was more cultural tradition than true religious belief."

"Ah," Jules replied. "That's rather common, inside and outside of the Terran Coalition. Whatever our reputation."

"Regardless of what I said in my public persona, I've always believed the reputed devotion of your religious belief came from the necessities of your people being in the war."

Jules nodded, although his expression belied his mixed feelings. He gave voice to them. "I do think the resurgence of devotion is in part from the war. Humanity, Saurian, Tal'mayan, it seems every species in all of Creation cling closest to God when things are tough. Honestly, I think it's a sign of how fickle people can be. We pray to God to help us in dark times, then when they're good, we tend to focus more on ourselves and less on spiritual matters."

"Are times ever good?" Caetano asked pointedly. "History speaks of golden ages in every species, but if you examine those histories, even in the golden ages there were problems. Your own people yearn in their hearts for a return to the way things were after the Saurian Empire yielded, seeing it as a golden age. But the decades before the League came weren't quiet years of prosperity in your Coalition or elsewhere. You had economic recessions, political scandals, worlds talking about withdrawing or controversially seeking membership."

Jules nodded. "That is true. Golden ages are usually judged after the fact, by people who only remember the good." His expression turned contemplative. "You were raised Catholic as a cultural tradition, you say, not for actual devotion. Does that mean you don't believe in God?"

That brought a searching look from Caetano. Her eyes grew distant, the sign of someone starting to examine their own soul. "I'm not sure," she finally admitted.

"So… more agnostic?"

"Perhaps. Or I simply don't know how I would relate to God, if a Supreme Being exists." Caetano shook her head. "I suppose part of it is that I am rightfully worried I'm not worthy of God."

"That's not possible," Jules insisted.

"Isn't it?" Caetano's look turned curious and her eyes focused on him. "With all of the terrible things I've done, you believe I'm worthy of the consideration of the Creator Being? Of the font of all that is good and righteous in existence?"

"Of course," said Jules. "The soul is the part of us that comes from God. God is, essentially, nothing but soul. There's a part of every being who can feel God's presence."

"But that doesn't make them worthy of God."

"You're thinking of this like a matter of criminal justice. Guilt and just punishment. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, but worth with God isn't about that. What matters there isn't what you've done, what you're guilty of, it's that you've come to realize you were wrong, and you genuinely want to repent of it. Jesus died for everyone, and the offer of redemption doesn't exclude any simply from the deeds they've done. Anyone, even someone guilty of the most horrible crime, can repent, and therefore, they're worthy."

Quiet came over the rec room. Jules could see Caetano was considering what he said. And he knew why. "You feel a lot of guilt about what's happened," he continued. "About the choices you’ve made. Your soul carries a heavy burden. But that's what God's for. To lift that burden. All you have to do is ask."

He saw the tears starting to swell in her eyes. "It can't be that simple."

"It is. Well, if you ask me anyway. I don't necessarily see eye to eye with the Catholic Church about the whole penance thing. I mean, doing good deeds to others to make up for the sins you commit is all well and good, don't get me wrong, but in my opinion, it reduces the relationship between God and the individual soul to put a material price tag on sin."

Despite the tears, Caetano smiled slightly. "That's good. I'm not sure I can say enough Hail Marys to ever atone for the people I've hurt, or allowed to be hurt."

Jules chuckled. So did Tia from her seat. They glanced at her while she kept staring at her book. After a few seconds, she placed the plastic bookmark into place and closed the book. Her expression was one of amusement. "Felix says socialist ideology is convoluted. If you ask me, it doesn't hold a candle to Christianity."

"I found the ideology a little thick myself," Jules said. "Although I can understand the frustration with the wealthy who forget their duties to other people."

"Here's where you point out that 'it’s easier for a camel to go through an eye than for a wealthy man to enter Heaven' thing, right?"

"The actual verse is a camel passing through the eye of a needle, but the essence is correct," Jules said pleasantly. "For what it's worth, the behavior of your planet's rulers is un-Christian in my view."

Tia smiled at him. "Thank you for that. I'll take it in the spirit intended, as support for the eventual liberation of my people."

"That seems to be unlikely any time soon," Caetano pointed out softly.

"Possibly." Tia gave her another, sharper smile. "But it'll come one day. You can't keep people under a boot forever."

"Amen," Jules said.

Breach of Faith

Their third day out from Trinidad Station was halfway through. Kepper stood on the bridge with Felix and Yanik while Henry, Tia, Piper, and Cera manned their stations. He consulted his tablet and grinned. "Ready for the last jump, people?"

Henry nodded and glanced at Piper. She checked her board for several seconds before looking back and nodding. "The fleet reports ready. Commodore Dulaney says they're good to go the moment you send the coordinates."

"Alright, then." Henry hit the intercom key on his chair. "All combat systems ready?"

"Ready as they've ever been," Tia confirmed.

"I'm ready t' give th' League sassenachs a show, Captain," Cera said cheerfully.

"Engineering here," came Pieter's voice over the intercom. "Reactors are green, fusion drive on standby. We're good, Captain."

Al-Lahim spoke next. "Holds here. The militia is ready for boarding, and I’m ready to push the Hunter missiles into space at your command."

"Infirmary here, we are ready," said Oskar.

Miri, Caetano, Vidia, and Jules checked in from the quad turrets.

"That's it, then," Tia said. She drew in a breath, steadying her nerves. "We're ready."

Henry glanced back to Kepper and nodded. Kepper tapped away at the tablet, relaying the tracker coordinates to the Shadow Wolf's navigational computer.

"Coordinates received," Piper said. "Jump calculated."

"Send to the fleet."

It was done with a button press. A moment later, the voice of Commodore Dulaney came over the fleet's comm channel. "All ships, jump coordinates relayed. Commence jump in ten… nine… eight… seven…"

The countdown continued, ratcheting up the tension in the bridge, even as Kepper, Felix, and Yanik departed, bound for the holds. Henry closed his eyes and felt an old, familiar tension. The tension that had always come back in the war, when his ship was about to execute a jump into a combat situation. He'd always felt easier hearing his comrades' exhortation "Godspeed" in those days, the promise of divine aid they'd all believed in with their hearts.

He didn't feel it anymore. In its place was something that lacked the comfort while it kept the fear in check. The feeling of determination in him to do what he needed to keep his crew safe, in this battle and afterward, by defeating the League.

An old quote came to his mind, something Captain Taylor used to say back in the day. "'Once more unto the breach, dear friends'," he muttered quietly.

Tia gave him a curious look but said nothing.

Dulaney's count hit zero. The space around them was filled with the sight of wormholes opened to what might be the last battle he'd ever fight.

Without any hesitation, he spoke. "Take us in, Cera."

The Shadow Wolf plunged through the multi-colored maw of energy.


Quiet filled the command center of Pluto Base when Admiral Hartford arrived with Chantavit Li. The two men walked up the stairs to the slightly-elevated command platform. Captain Jean-Pierre Caillaux saluted to them and received a salute in return from Hartford. With a motion, he prompted the communications officer to open a general narrow-beam channel to the rest of the fleet. "For the last year, we have labored, my dear comrades," Hartford said, his New Anglian accent making his speech clear. "We have labored to end thirty years of war that have cost us the lives of so many dear friends. Thirty years of war with fanatics who allow their superstition and selfishness to blind them to the glory of Society. Now a great plan is in motion that will bring us final victory, and our role in that plan is critical. Go now, fulfill the plan, and know that through your service your place in the history of the Society will never be forgotten."

With his statement finished, Hartford watched the fleet of refitted civilian ships start their burn out to the system's Lawrence limit. His words rang with confidence that inwardly he didn't feel. They were genuine, yes, but he was worried. He'd said nearly the same thing before the assault on New Arabia, after all, at the head of one of the largest invasion fleets the League ever assembled and meant to fall on one of the core worlds of the Coalition while its fleets were scattered by diversionary attacks and maneuvers. It would’ve been a decisive victory.

It was a victory that never came. His fleet jumped in and was waylaid by the bulk of the Coalition fleet supported by waves of planet and station-based defense fighters. The Coalition Defense Force knew he was coming, because Miri Gaon had told them.

Now she was here. In the Trifid Region, on Lusitania itself reportedly—Hartford was skeptical she could be kept from getting off-world, if she hadn't already left with the Shadow Wolf—and aware of some of his plans. History might repeat itself.

Hartford's condition was agonizing, in truth. No matter the reassurances he tried to give himself, or the ones he heard from others, he couldn't get the thought out of his head. Miri Gaon was going to ruin it. She would destroy everything. Though he hid it behind the mask of his quiet expression, his very being was being gnawed at by a raw fear just as potent as its opposite, hope. Because for all the reasons, he knew things couldn't go wrong… he couldn't avoid the thought they would.

He was diverted from his mental considerations by a report from another of the station officers, speaking with a Scandinavian accent. "Fleet is approaching Lawrence limit. Preparing for jump." Seconds passed, stretching out toward a minute that felt like an hour. Finally, another report came in. "Ships are at limit. Initiating jump."

Hartford breathed out. This part, at least, was over.

"Wormhole generation detected," the officer suddenly said. "Multiple wormholes forming. Incoming vessels are of multiple types and classifications, all armed."

"They're not ours?" asked Caillaux.

"No, Captain."

While everyone else was surprised by the report, Hartford seemed unfazed. It would be a comfort to his subordinates, in fact, but only because they didn't feel the fear take him by the throat.

For all of Aristide and Li's assurances, he'd been right to be afraid after all. "Assume combat stations," he called out. "Order the fleet to abort their jumps and engage!"

Breach of Faith

After several seconds, the Shadow Wolf's sensors cleared from the effects of the jump. The holotank was nearly blanked out by the sheer quantity of contacts, friendly greens, and hostile ambers playing over Henry's face.

The Morozova and her contingent from Cyrilgrad were, predictably, the first to directly engage. Missiles erupted from launchers and raced across space to the incoming ships converted by the League. Within moments, other missile-armed ships in the ad hoc fleet joined in the volley. Plumes of plasma and flame filled the empty void between the two forces. A few missiles plowed into the lead ships even as they were starting to raise their deflectors, causing terrible damage against their civilian-grade hulls with makeshift armoring and support welded into place. One of the ships took a missile in the aft section that knocked out its engines. It lost acceleration and started to fall behind the rest of the League Q-ship fleet.

Both sides traded fire in the next seconds, the Shadow Wolf included. Projectiles and directed energy crossed each other in space between the two fleets, joined by more flights of missiles and the telltale cerulean lightning of the electromagnetic pulse cannons the Leaguers now employed. The latter weapon splashed harmlessly against ships with intact deflectors. In a couple of cases where multiple pulses struck ships in the privateer fleet with compromised deflectors, those vessels went dark.

The Shadow Wolf was, of course, not one of them. Cera brought the fusion drives online and used them to accelerate the ship faster than the others, granting them increased maneuverability and evasive capability. Henry noted some of the other ships, including most of those originating from Trinidad Station, likewise displayed hidden fusion drives, which granted a similar boost.

Their maneuvers brought them into contact with a familiar sight: the Holden-Nagata vessel that ambushed them at TR-778. Again, its EM weapon was firing at them, as were affixed particle cannons, but this time, the Shadow Wolf's deflectors met the shots. As they passed beside their foe, the ship's port plasma cannon and gun turrets raked the vessel with fire. A converted heavy gunship flew in behind them and added in its particle lances to the fray. Together, they drained the enemy vessel's deflectors. Both ships maneuvered to avoid close hits from the dangerous EM weapon.

The numerical superiority of the privateer fleet was telling. But Henry noticed the shifting formation of the League fleet. Every ship moved with military precision to adopt a defensive position. He keyed the comms. "Henry to all ships. Stay tight, and don't get too aggressive. They're creating overlapping fields of fire to catch us if we get too exposed."

"Stand off and engage," Dulaney added, showing his agreement with Henry's suggestion.

Yet Henry was already sure the order wouldn't be heeded, and the following seconds proved him right. Too many of the captains were independent, and wanted to guarantee their share of spoils through direct action. At least fifteen of the ships continued to press their attacks closely.

One of them, a converted destroyer, was the first to suffer for this careless behavior. The ship in question was attempting to keep its primary batteries on a League vessel and exposed itself to overlapping fire from multiple opponents. While it succeeded in inflicting some damage, the mass of fire on its deflectors soon left them degraded enough that a pair of EMP blasts crippled it completely. In the next thirty seconds, four more of the privateers suffered the same fate, with no losses inflicted on the enemy.

"Idiots," Henry snarled as the fourth friendly marker went out. This was what he was afraid of, and why he'd hoped for even more ships: the League might be numerically inferior, but their fleet was trained to work together like few of the privateers were. He went back on and barked, "Dammit, people, stop exposing yourselves. Stand off!"

"Captain Henry is correct." The voice of Piotr Tokarev came through. "You’re wasting your ships! Pull back with the rest of the fleet or, by God, I will have your heads!"

Some of their allies did so, some didn't, and the end result was the loss of another five to only one League vessel. This went a long way to redressing the imbalance of losses in the first exchange.

The Shadow Wolf shuddered. "Direct hit on port deflector, looks like a medium-caliber mag cannon round," Tia said. "Deflectors still holding but degraded."

"I'm giving them what I can, but we're not designed for fighting broadside to broadside," Piper added.

"We're not designed for fighting at all," Henry noted dryly. "Cera, if you can get us some shots from the bow, I'd appreciate it."

"Makin' th' arrangement now, sir," she replied with slightly inappropriate cheer.

The Shadow Wolf's maneuvers pulled her away from the enemy fleet before bringing her back toward them. Their bow centered on a medium ore hauler with its cargo pods turned into mag-cannon emplacements. "Shooting all forward weapons," Piper said. The purple bolts from the plasma cannons were the first to appear, hammering at the ore hauler's deflectors. The following shot from the Shadow Wolf's neutron cannon struck home. The white-hot sapphire beam from the Shadow Wolf's belly sliced across the ore hauler's hull like a scalpel. Ammunition explosions went off one by one, gutting the hauler while leaving its superstructure roughly intact.

To avoid exposing them as the other ships had done, Cera turned them back away from the block of enemy Q-ships while more fire converged around them. "Looks like we made 'em mad, Captain," she said to Henry.

"We're going to make them even madder.”

Breach of Faith

From the Pluto Base command center, Admiral Hartford observed the ongoing battle. In numbers, he was still inferior. But he had good reason to be confident in the pace of the fight. More of the attacking ships were crippled or destroyed than his own Q-ship fleet. It was reasonably evident to him that the enemy lacked a unified command and control.

Beside him, Li chuckled. "Individualists," he said with mirth. "The fools can't even fight well. Each wants glory and spoils for themselves."

"It provides us tactical opportunities." Hartford didn't bother with Li's confident sense of superiority. The battle wasn't lost, nor was it won. He turned to Caillaux. "Captain, what is the status of our defense wing?"

"We have four squadrons of fighters," replied Caillaux. "They are older models pulled off the front for lack of capability."

"I see." Hartford turned his attention back to the holoprojection of the engagement. "Order two squadrons armed for anti-ship combat and launch them when ready." He glanced at Caillaux. "How long until they can put into space?"

Caillaux checked one of the screens beside him. "Re-armament has added time to their launch requirements. Fifteen minutes until screening fighters can deploy, twenty-five until anti-ship fighters."

Hartford frowned. He couldn't blame the crews since the expectation of attack was low, but this would prolong the time until his strategy could be employed. Time during which the enemy fleet could regain the initiative. But he also knew the crews couldn't be rushed. No threat of punishment could warp space-time after all, and there were raw physical limits to their abilities.

"Admiral, Captain, perhaps you should remind the flight crew of their Social duty?" Li asked pointedly. "Fifteen minutes seems to be too long to do such simple tasks, unless they are not working to their full potential."

Hartford shot an angry glance at Li. "You know nothing of what you speak," he said pointedly. "The fueling and arming of a fighter is not a simple task. Fifteen minutes shows they are performing to their highest expectations. Had the wing been on standard operation, it would be twice that."

There was visible skepticism on Li's face, but he said nothing.

Content at putting down the insufferable political officer, Hartford returned his attention to the battle. "Order the fleet to burn toward Pluto Base.”

Breach of Faith

The Shadow Wolf shuddered slightly, the telltale sign of kinetic reaction pressing the deflectors' generators against their reinforced moorings to the ship's structure. "Deflectors strained but holding on starboard," Tia said. In that direction was a Q-ship, a former liner from her appearance. Mag-cannons bolted to her hull fired a steady stream of shells at the Shadow Wolf as it maneuvered and twisted. Pulse fire from the turrets struck at the deflectors of the other ship with little effect.

Piper brought the starboard-facing plasma cannon to bear, and this time, there was more of an effect. The deflectors of the other ship degraded, and the pulse fire from the manned turrets started blasting away unshielded hull. One of the shots hit one of the mag-cannon emplacements and blew it apart. The former liner twisted until it presented a strong deflector section toward Shadow Wolf, never leaving its place in the enemy formation.

Cera completed a turn that did the same for them, giving the weakened starboard deflectors a brief reprieve. Yet again she brought the bow toward the other ship at an angle. Not only were both plasma cannons engaged in battering at the deflectors, the Shadow Wolf's neutron cannon was lined up for a shot as well. "This will be the last one for a little while," Piper warned. "I'm getting heat stress warnings from the system, and the capacitors will need to recharge."

"Understood. Shoot."

The neutron cannon fired, a full-power shot that met a resisting deflector. The repeated use of the weapon in the fight so far meant it was too weak to effectively break through the other ship's deflector to do damage, but it did drastically weaken them. Renewed plasma fire blasted pieces of metal and material from the armed liner, progressively damaging her as she moved toward the interior of the League formation to get protection from the other ships. Despite Piper's best efforts, the vessel managed to get to safety.

Henry wasn't as interested in that as he was the maneuvers of the enemy fleet. As one unit, they were altering course. His suspicions were confirmed by their ultimate heading. "It appears they're burning for their base," he said. "Probably looking to get us into range of its plasma cannons." A possibility came to him. "Any sign of defense fighters yet?"

"None," Piper confirmed.

"They probably weren't ready, but I'd say we'll have no more than another ten, fifteen minutes before we start seeing them." Henry used the controls to bring up a second image on the bridge's interior wall display showing the station. "They've probably got at least three, maybe four squadrons of fighters, if not more. If those things are equipped with anti-ship missiles, this could get dicey."

"So we need to get these ships beat before the fighters can join in?" Tia asked.

"That's what I'd prefer, yeah." Henry channeled the tactical comm. "Any thoughts on cutting them off, Commodore?"

"Yes, and that's precisely what we're going to do," came the reply. "All ships with sufficient engine power, go to full thrust and pull ahead."

Henry nodded. "Cera, you heard the man. Put as much into the fusion drive as you need to keep us with the Mad Hatter."

"Aye," she answered.

The Shadow Wolf joined nearly twenty ships in rushing forward, their engines all straining at high thrust while weapons fire continued between the two sides.

Due to the nature of their ships, the exchange lacked the sheer volume and capacity of one between similar numbers of warships. This was balanced by the all-or-nothing element of the fight. Military ships had armoring and subdivision planning to survive direct hits from enemy fire. Civilian ships were designed to withstand some damage but had nowhere near the survivability of a military vessel if hit without deflectors. Even without the League EMP cannons to cripple ships in one salvo, the loss of deflectors meant inevitable defeat.

This made their maneuver all the more critical. The League ships could find sanctuary under the guns of the station; denying it to them was crucial to wearing them down, and that meant getting between them and the station itself. So long as they did it beyond a specific range, the station's weapon systems wouldn't be decisive, and they could keep the Q-ships boxed in.

Nevertheless, the situation made Henry uncomfortable. Something’s wrong here.

Breach of Faith

Caillaux and Li watched the viewers and tactical holotank as thoroughly as Hartford, but neither saw it the way he did. He couldn't blame them: Caillaux was not a fleet officer, nor had he ever been, and Li already demonstrated his ignorance of the military. "You’re luring them into range of our station's cannons?" Li asked.

Hartford grinned but said nothing. He kept his eye on the holotank and checked the distance markers. The formation of the privateers was thinning, just as he'd intended. They were trying to cut his forces off from Pluto Base. It was a reasonable counter since letting his ships get back under the guns of the base would grant tactical advantages.

And it was exactly what he wanted them to do.

Breach of Faith

Thanks to her fusion drive, the Shadow Wolf was near the lead of one side of the formation. Soon they would pull ahead of the enemy fleet and, after that, they would have the range to interpose themselves between that fleet and the base. The League-controlled ships would be caught between two fires.

That was what was making Henry so nervous.

"Something isn't right," he muttered. That drew Tia's attention. He returned that attention with a glance before finishing his thought. "Hartford, or whoever's in charge over there, can see what we're doing. He's made no effort to evade or adjust. He knows we'll cut him off."

"Implying he wants to."

"Or that he wants us to stretch out further." Henry examined the holotank again, using the controls to rotate the display around. For the first time in years, he thought like the man he used to be, the combat-tried CDF officer experienced with executing starship tactics and commanding men and women who applied it in battle after battle.

His finger stabbed the comm line key. "All ships, break away, break away now!"

Cera didn't need an order addressed to her. She fired the Shadow Wolf's directional thrusters and immediately changed their heading away from the enemy fleet.

Some of those behind and around the Shadow Wolf did the same. But others didn't.

"Henry, what in the hell—"

"Break away, Commodore," Henry urged. "Trust me!"

The League Q-ships acted as if under the control of one hand, one mind. They turned to their starboard sides suddenly, some straining to do so more than others, given the limits of their propulsion systems. Their weapons tracked in the same direction and, with one will, opened fire. A series of mag-cannon shells and energy beams flew ahead and tore into the nearest section of the privateer fleet.

Henry cursed under his breath. The League maneuver meant for the next thirty to sixty seconds, the full fury of its fleet was focused on barely a tenth of the privateers. "Bring us back in!" he shouted, knowing there wasn't much they could do to help Dulaney and the ships accompanying him.

The results spoke for themselves. Blow after blow landed on the friendly vessels, battering their deflectors down. They returned fire with desperate fury, but outnumbered at the point of contact like they were, their shots could not achieve anything like the volume of fire descending on them. Deflectors failed and the EMP guns fired. One by one, the privateer vessels simply died. A couple didn't even have time to go dark as they took damage to ammunition bunkerage or other systems that blew them apart.

At the thirty-eight-second mark, the Shadow Wolf and another eight vessels re-engaged, coming at the side of the League Q-ship formation. At Piper's command, the neutron cannon, readied again, fired in tandem with the plasma cannons. Their target, another medium-sized transport, lost deflectors almost immediately. Xaser fire from a Tal'mayan privateer to their port played along the ship's flank and tore her open with wounds of flame and debris. Over the next several seconds, the rest of the privateer fleet re-engaged.

This saved the Mad Hatter. Dulaney's flagship and another large vessel, an old Saurian cruiser that looked a century old, were the only ships to be targeted with still intact deflectors. While the rest of the fleet forced the enemy to adjust, the Trinidad Station commander got his ship and its comrade out of the firing zone, burning hard to get out of the fight and allow their failing deflectors to recharge. Dulaney's voice came over the comms. "All ships, break and re-form. And I damn well mean it. We need a new strategy."

Damned right, we do. Henry set his jaw and gripped the armrests of his chair. So far, the League was making them look like cadets. The losses ratio was now standing at three privateer ships for every lost League one, and their numerical advantage was steadily slipping away. If the League station or its fighters got involved, they were in trouble.

The League fleet, no longer on course for Pluto Base, was coming about. With the numbers more equalized, it seemed to Henry they were getting ready to assume the offensive.

"Those missiles al-Lahim gave us, we should probably use those now," Tia pointed out.

Henry shook his head. "Not like this. Once the League knows we've got Hunters, they'll adjust tactics. If we use them, we've got to kick them in the head when we do it. Something to—" A thought came to him. He smiled to himself and ignored the shudder of a direct hit to the Shadow Wolf's deflectors while keying the comms. "Commodore Dulaney, I've got an idea."

"I'm all ears, Captain Henry."

"We've been letting them dictate how this engagement is going, and they're using that. I say let's take the initiative back. We hit something they have to protect."

"You wish to engage League base," said Piotr Tokarev. "Base likely has plasma cannon, maybe other weapons. Will be… difficult target."

"Ordinarily, yeah, but I'm carrying something to even the odds. To make this work, I need the ships carrying the boarding teams to form up with me."

"That's half our remaining strength," Dulaney replied. "The other ships won't be strong enough to hold back the League fleet."

"They only need to delay them, keep them honest," Henry promised. "And it's just a brief diversion. Once we deploy our troops, we'll get back in the fight."

There was silence on the other end.

"I will join you, Captain," Piotr pledged. "As will my squadron." A few other independent captains soon echoed over the line, vowing the same.

"Alright. Detaching our ships to your command. It's on you, Captain Henry."

Henry nodded, although only his crew could see it. He took a breath, steeled himself for the possibility of failure, and started giving orders.


The success of his maneuver brought no comfort to Hartford. He'd cut down the enemy's margin of superiority, but they still had those numbers. Even worse, they weren't yet withdrawing, and he was already losing ships again. If the battle continued for just another half-hour, they’d end up with a pyrrhic victory, as his fleet would not get the reaction he needed from Lusitanian authorities.

He broke the silence with an order. "Perform an emissions scan on the fleet. Identify vessels with the most active communication signals.

"Yes, Admiral!" one junior officer responded, prompt and eager like he was wet behind the ears.

Hartford's attention returned to the holotank display, with its sterile grouping of red and blue lights. The two fleets were reforming after the previous maneuvers from both sides. His squadron was doing so faster, to his gratification.

The display changed, now showing links between red icons. "We have signal traffic between ships. Narrow-beam tactical communication network from the looks of it."

"Yes. Probably the only method that could be guaranteed to work with all of these designs." Hartford's right hand lifted toward the holotank. "Send to the fleet. Focus fire on these targets." He zoomed in on the enemy formation and used his finger to "touch" the holographic markers, causing them to light up further. "The enemy's coordination is poor, but they still have leaders. If we remove the leaders, we’ll panic the rest."

"Modified targeting orders acknowledged, sir."

Hartford watched the volume of fire shift. At the same time, he noticed that the enemy fleet was not merely regrouping. They were re-organizing. Some of the vessels were starting to change position, as if forming together, and under a commander who was at least familiar with starship maneuver and formations. What are they doing? he pondered. He studied the maneuvering ships, and his eyes fell on the form of a medium-weight cargo transport ship with six visible holds on its underbelly. The emissions scanning showed it was communicating rather heavily with the other contacts. Could that be? Rage filled him as he lifted his hand and marked the icon. "I want this vessel eliminated."

Breach of Faith

Tia listened with some awe as Henry organized the ships moving into formation with the Shadow Wolf. While she'd always known of his past in the CDF, and that he was a capable ship handler, that he knew anything about arranging ships like this was something new to her experience. When he was done, she asked, "I thought you were never higher than a First Officer when you had combat duty?"

Henry flashed a small grin at her. "Colonel Goldstein was also often in command of improvised destroyer squadrons. The man had a talent for wrangling ships together."

"Uh, Captain?" Piper looked over at the sensors with some worry in her voice. "The League ships are moving again. Toward us."

Tia didn't like the sound of that. "They're coming after the fleet again?"

"Not just the fleet. Us," she said. "I'm getting weapons lock-on from them."

"Damn." Tia looked at the holotank. They had maybe ten seconds left before they came under fire. "What now?"

Henry nodded. "Tell everyone to move, now. We're going in."

Breach of Faith

Hartford watched with quiet interest the evolving maneuver of the privateer force. Some of their ships started pulling away from the others, including the target he'd designated for the fleet. As he stared, he could see it had a rather impressive acceleration profile. The kind only possible with a fusion drive.

Caillaux saw the maneuver too. His expression betrayed his surprise and his concern. "They're heading for us, Admiral," he said.

"Time to fighter launch?"

"Five minutes for screening fighters, ten for attack," Caillaux answered.

"My compliments to the flight crew for their energy," Hartford said. His eyes never left the holotank, giving Caillaux and Li the impression of a man trying to see into the minds of his adversaries.

Breach of Faith

The Shadow Wolf and over two dozen ships were now burning hard for Pluto Base. The League's stolen fleet of civilian vessels was in hot pursuit, even as the rest of the privateer fleet exchanged fire with them. The void was filled with the fury of battle, energy weapons, and magnetically-accelerated projectiles racing across thousands of kilometers of space to smash into deflector screens and bare hull.

"I'm reading plasma cannon emplacements coming online," Piper warned.

"Acknowledged," Henry said. His attention was entirely on the holotank, judging the distances. He was already confident in Cera doing what was necessary to evade fire without breaking from their course. With a stroke of a key, he opened his comm line to al-Lahim. "Major, how many of those things do we have again?"

"Thirty," was the reply. "Fourteen in each amidship hold and two as a reserve in the stern holds."

"Get ready to roll out the ones in the mid-port hold, on my mark."

Breach of Faith

Yanik overheard al-Lahim's acknowledgment of the order from his place in the port middle hold. The deck was mostly taken up by the missiles in question and provided very little room for maneuver. Al-Lahim was currently standing in the passage linking the two amidship holds together. "If we decompress the entire compartment, it should be enough," he proposed.

With the gravity turned off, Yanik agreed. "I will see to the hatch. You prepare the missiles." Without waiting for al-Lahim to concur, Yanik started forward. He had to fight the inertia effects of the ship's thrust, currently overwhelming the inertial compensators. With a combination of sheer strength, determination, and aid from his mag boots, Yanik made his way to the controls of the cargo hatch. "Captain, we are ready," he said into the ship's intercom.

"Stand by."

The ship shuddered once, then twice. It was under fire. Possibly heavy fire. A third shake confirmed his belief. There was no practical purpose for being worried about it, so Yanik did not. He kept his hand at the control, waiting for the word to trigger the sequence.

Breach of Faith

As a civilian ship, the Shadow Wolf didn't have the kind of command and control equipment that a military vessel did, especially one built to permit command of formations. Henry had to make do with a holotank that was designed for observing traffic around his ship. Right now, it showed the host of amber contacts that Piper had marked as hostile bearing down on them, repeatedly firing as if the sole goal of the enemy fleet was to remove his ship from existence.

Another shot hit them. "Shell hit. Rear deflectors are failing," Tia said. "We need to take hard evasive action."

"In a minute," Henry said. "Cera, do what you can but keep this heading. On my mark, prepare for a sharp turn, heading eighty-eight by thirty.”

"Aye," she said.

"Piper, I want the missiles in the port hold aimed at those plasma cannon emplacements. Task six for the larger hangars on the station itself. They need to be on target the moment we drop them, so set the safety ranges to zero."

Piper nodded. "I'm feeding them the targeting data now."

Henry's mind raced as more impacts rocked his ship. Many shots missed. Some were taken by other vessels detached to aid him, since their deflectors were less strained by the fight. The determination of the enemy fleet to eliminate the Shadow Wolf was something he hadn't expected. In retrospect, it was sloppy of him. His vessel had already fought off two ambushes from these people or their proxies. Why wouldn't they be determined to take him down?

Or they're using emissions scans and figured out I'm giving orders. What I wouldn't give for a proper military commlink network right now.

"Captain, we're approachin' that point you asked about," Cera said.

"So I see." As he spoke, the ship shuddered again.

"Rear deflectors critical," Tia said.

"Isn't anyone directing power to the rear deflector generator?" Henry asked.

"Yes, but we're not a damn warship, as if I have to remind you!" Tia countered.

Her point was made even more eloquently a moment later as a plasma beam sizzled through the void, went between two of their following allies, and speared the stern section of the Shadow Wolf. The emerald beam sliced through the hull and scourged the transport's alloy skin.

"Partial hit, stern, lower deck," Tia said. "No critical systems damage, but we do have a hull breach. Emergency bulkhead in place." With some sarcasm, she added, "Rear deflector's out, by the way."

Henry nodded in acknowledgment, but he paid her no further heed, much to Tia's apparent chagrin. He was busy judging the distance with the holotank. Almost there.

Another shot lashed out at them, barely missing. Then another plasma beam scoured the starboard atmospheric stabilizer fin sticking up from the stern, shearing much of it away.

Tia reported the damage in a quietly desperate kind of voice. "Whatever you're doing, do it now!" she insisted. "We need to present a deflector facing that's not drained!"

For a second, Henry didn't react. He still didn't have the range he wanted. But it should be enough. Can't let perfect be the enemy of good enough, even at these stakes. He opened the intercom so Yanik could hear him and shouted, "Mark!"

Cera immediately fired the maneuvering engines and wrenched the Shadow Wolf onto a new course. As the ship turned, the middle port hold's door opened to space. Henry couldn't hear the result of decompression given the middle holds were atmospherically-sealed, but he could imagine the roar Yanik was enduring as the atmosphere in that hold was pulled into space by vacuum.

The vacuum claimed all fourteen of the missiles in the hold. The holotank showed their transponders were active. While Cera straightened out the ship and presented the intact starboard deflector to their opponents, Henry was already looking to Piper. "Now!"

It wasn't necessary. She'd already triggered the missiles.

The fourteen Hunters came alive. They already had some inertia from the decompression that ejected them into space. Their engines roared in unison and they rocketed off toward the enemy base.

"All ships, follow the missiles in!" Henry ordered. "Fire on their deflectors, all weapons!"

Breach of Faith

Hartford was ready for the ship he was now convinced was the Shadow Wolf to do something. That was why he'd ordered the fleet to focus on it. Seeing it drop missiles while turning and burning was a maneuver he was not surprised by.

"Point defense is engaging incoming missiles," an officer said, her accent a North American one.

The report didn't seem to need a reply. Hartford kept his attention on the enemy fleet. The ships were still bearing down on Pluto Base. Their weapons blazed to life, sending weapons fire of a half dozen different types along with a barrage of missiles and mag-cannon shells into the station’s shields.

This tactic is bizarre. It seemed nothing more than a defiant gesture. Pluto Base's deflectors might fail, but her plasma cannon emplacements were built for engaging military ships. It would make short work of them if they dared to get in range. Hartford stared at the plot, trying to discern the enemy’s next move.

"Sir, the enemy missiles—"

"What?" Hartford didn't shout, but his voice betrayed impatience. He shifted his gaze from the incoming ships to the missiles streaking ahead of them.

Missiles that were most certainly not being taken out by the point defenses.

Realization came, and with it, a tremor of fear. "No," Hartford breathed. "How did they?"

"Enemy missile profiles confirmed, Coalition Defense Force Hunter-type!" the officer reported. Her voice wavered. She was apparently as surprised as he was. "They're evading our point defense fire!"

"Increase firing rate!" Caillaux ordered.

"Launch any fighter ready, target those missiles!" Hartford added.

"No fighters ready yet, sir; still two minutes from—"

Caillaux's answer didn't reach Hartford, not entirely. He was already watching with horror as the missiles, coming in on their rapidly-changing vectors, defeated all of the electronic spoofing and point-defense Pluto Base had to offer. The truth was the station hadn't been designed with the level of defenses needed to defeat a barrage the Terran Coalition’s best weapons.

"Enemy fire is intensifying against the deflectors, shield power is falling below fifty percent.”

There was nothing for Hartford to do but watch and see how it played out. The Hunter missiles, using their shackled AI systems, pressed on with ease. More to the point, the desperate efforts of the systems meant the missiles fired by the other ships in the fleet were not suffering much interdiction either. "Redirect point defense to the rest of their barrage," he ordered. "We need to attrite the incoming fire."

"Aye, sir."

It was, of course, not enough. When the Hunters finally came in, they started to impact on failing deflectors. Their powerful warheads went off, one after the other.

"Deflectors critical!"

Once the shields failed, they were through, eleven missiles in all. In the final seconds before impact, the close range and lucky fire took out two of the Hunters, but that left nine to finish their courses. The station shook violently as they detonated against its structure, blasting the weapon emplacements and hangars.

"Damage report,” Hartford barked.

"We've lost seven plasma cannon emplacements, including all facing the approaching enemy fleet. Two of our hangars were hit, the fighters and personnel inside are gone. Automatic fire suppression systems are functional."

Caillaux swallowed at his subordinate's report. "We're down to two fighter squadrons now. One of them is being rearmed for anti-ship combat." Even as he spoke, the station seemed to vibrate as its frame endured more abuse from the enemy ships approaching. Their fire kept the deflectors from regaining coherency, meaning there was nothing to prevent them from physically interacting with the station. More to the point, their weapons were starting to damage the station itself.

"Inform all personnel, prepare to repel enemy boarders," Hartford said sternly. On the holotank, his ships were still trying to kill the vessel that fired those Hunters. It was burning hard for the station at a parabolic approach that shifted every second due to its constant evasions. His fleet, meanwhile, was taking fire from both sections of the enemy fleet, particularly that section not approaching Pluto Base. As he observed, another ship succumbed, reducing the fleet yet further.

Behind Hartford, Li was smoldering. "You have failed," he growled.

"I have done all that is possible," Hartford answered, not bothering to face the liaison officer, contempt in his tone. "Or, do you have a better strategy?"

"Recall Zervakos' squadron!"

He laughed coldly. "Commander, that would be pointless. They’re at least six jumps away. No ship has ever jumped more than four times without cooldown, and most perish in such efforts. Even if Zervakos risks his ships with double or even triple jumps, he would still need time for cool-downs of his systems. His arrival would be two to three hours away." A slight grin came to his face as he reopened the comm channel. "Fleet, disengage. Burn to the jump zone and make your way to Lusitania. Commence the operation as planned." The fleet obeyed his order, vessels turning immediately on a vector out of the system. He noted the looks on the faces of Caillaux and Li, as if he were mad.

"You have ensured our defeat, Admiral," Caillaux said. "Even if we repel their boarding parties, we've lost too many weapon systems. They'll either take us or destroy us."

"Yes." Hartford nodded. "But the operation will still succeed. The loss of Pluto Base and all aboard is an acceptable price for the success of the mission, wouldn't you agree?"

Caillaux and Li nodded. "Indeed, Admiral," Li said. "As long as we fulfill our Social duty, no other consideration matters. With your permission, I will join your forces to repel the boarding parties."

"No," said Hartford. "Make your way back to your ship. Your vessel's electronic countermeasures will allow it to slip away. Link up with Captain Zervakos and see to the operation's completion."

Li nodded. "I will, Admiral." After saying that, he departed the command center.

Hartford's attention returned to the ongoing battle. Most of the enemy ships were already coming up to the intact hangars or pulling adjacent to sections of the torus opposite of the intact plasma cannons. Two vessels approached the central body of the station and came under immediate fire that forced them away. The icon for one disappeared; destroyed or crippled, in all likelihood.

"Admiral, you should withdraw as well," Caillaux said. "You still have a role in the war effort. The Altair is docked under the cover of our remaining weapon emplacements. Allow me and my officers to cover your escape with our lives."

A pained look came over Hartford's face. After several moments, he nodded in acceptance of the point. "Very well. Your names will be remembered by society until the end of time, Captain."

"That is all any member of society can ask," Caillaux answered proudly. "Once you’re clear, we will overload our fusion cores. We'll take these animals with us."

"No." Hartford turned to him and shook his head. "The other ships may know something about our plans. If the station is destroyed, they would immediately head to Lusitania and might arrive at an inopportune time. My final order to you, Captain, is to hold out as long as you can before you overload the cores."

"Order acknowledged, Admiral," Caillaux said. He promptly saluted Hartford. The rest of the officers did the same.

Hartford brought his hand to his brow stiffy and returned the salute. After his hand came down, he turned toward the exit door and, with some reluctance, departed the command center.


Through his holotank projector, Henry watched the success of his plan with relief. The League base's defenses were heavily compromised by the missile attack and the approaching ships were further degrading the station's defensive capability. Already they were heading in to begin deploying boarding forces. So was the Shadow Wolf, in a wide parabolic course to evade both the remaining guns on the station and the enemy fleet still determined to kill them.

Henry knew something had changed when the incoming fire slackened. He watched on the holotank as the enemy fleet turned away. At first, he wondered if this was some attempt to regroup.

"Looks like they lost interest," Tia said. "What do you think they're up to?"

"I wish I knew." Henry keyed the commlink to the Mad Hatter. "Commodore, it looks like they're withdrawing."

"So it would seem," Dulaney said, his tone cheerful. "We've won."

"No, I don't think it's that simple." Henry stopped himself from shaking his head. "That's not how these people think. They haven't fought long or hard enough to give in." A suspicion came to him. "They're going for Lusitania. They're still going for whatever their operation is."

"Then we should call off boarding action," Piotr suggested. "This may be trap."

"No, no, we still need to take this place," Henry insisted. "We might be able to recover data on what they're doing. We need to know."

"If we board, League will probably self-destruct station, kill our boarding teams."

The point raised was a good one. Henry spent another ten seconds considering it before he shook his head. "No. I understand what you mean, and if you want to break off and pursue that fleet, go ahead, but I think we need that station. We should secure the engineering spaces and the command spaces immediately and then take the station bit by bit."

He waited for the reply to his argument. Two of the would-be boarding ships broke away and started burning for Dulaney's section of the fleet again; those captains evidently didn't like the idea.

"Your points are right, Captain Henry," Dulaney said. "I'm ordering our people to maintain boarding plans."

"And you, Captain Tokarev?" Henry asked.

There was a silence of about ten seconds. Cera was already putting them on a more direct course to enter one of the hangars.

"You make good argument, Captain," Piotr answered. "We will stay on course. God stands with us."

"We'll harass the enemy ships before they jump," Dulaney added. "We won't have the firepower to stop them, but maybe we can whittle them down."

"I'm leaving that in your hands, Commodore," Henry said. "Captain Tokarev, my people will go for the computers of the station if yours will head for the command center. Dulaney's can handle the engineering section."

"Accepted!" came the eager reply.

"Bringing us in, Captain," said Cera.

The Shadow Wolf pulled in toward the outer part of the station's torus section. The display at the front of the bridge showed a set of closed hangar doors come into view. "Piper?" Henry asked.

"With pleasure," she replied as her hand reached for the firing controls.

One of the Shadow Wolf's plasma cannons tracked to face the alloy-covered opening and started firing. Pulses of purple energy slammed into and then through the door, wrecking part of the interior of the hangar. There was no decompression. Henry figured the League had depressurized the area anyway, undoubtedly to complicate boarding. He opened a comm to Felix. "Make sure the landing troops know to expect low or zero-G and no atmosphere."

"They're already in softsuits," Felix replied. "So are we."

"Who's going aboard?"

"Yanik, Miri, Miss Caetano, al-Lahim, and I. Oskar and Jules'll follow to provide aid to the wounded. The killer's suited up too, but I don't think he'll be helping us for long."

"Let him do what he wants; we'll handle Kepper later," Henry answered.

Cera was already guiding the Shadow Wolf in. The ship would never fit in the hangar; it was too small for a vessel of its size, so she was bringing them around and pulling as close as she could. "I think we'll just manage t' get th' hold ramp to touch th' floor, sir," she said.

"Do whatever you can," Henry said. "Once we're unloaded, pull away. We'll see if there's another hangar we can actually land in."

Several seconds passed. The Shadow Wolf finished her turn. Cera used the maneuvering drives and a little thrust from the plasma drives to line the Shadow Wolf up to the hangar, putting it on their starboard.

Piper spoke up. "Enemy fighters launching, Captain."

"Let those Trinidad volunteers in our turrets know to keep their eyes peeled," he replied.

"I've done th' best I can," Cera said. "Tell 'em to open th' hold."

"This is Henry to boarding forces. Open starboard hold, extend the ramp. Good luck to you all," Henry said. "Piper, I'm not sure our quads will have a firing angle, but there should be an auto-turret to give them support fire."

"I'll be ready," Piper offered.

A few moments later, Tia spoke up. "Starboard hold door is opening."

"My best to Cera," Felix said over the commlink. "The ramp is a bit over half a meter into the hangar. We can use magboots to walk right in."

"Thank ye, Mister Rothbard. I do aim t' please," Cera said brightly.

"Alright, everyone, we're heading in. Wish us luck."

"You've got it," said Henry.

Tia glanced to Henry and, despite herself, grinned. "Just like old times, I suppose?"

Henry snorted a quick laugh. "A bit, but not quite."


"We'd have added 'Godspeed'," Henry said. An old, familiar pain showed on his face. "And that's a word I don't use anymore."

Tia noticed the grimace and said nothing more.

Breach of Faith

The Trinidad teams were careful in stepping off the Shadow Wolf and onto the station. The damaged area had little in the way of anything beyond debris. A sliding double door on the far end was shut. One of the Trinidaders walked up to it and tested the control. "Locked down," she said, looking at the others through the faceplate of his suit. "Demolition charge?"

Another man provided the charge. Everyone stood back as it was attached to the door and activated. The explosive did its job and blasted the door open in a shower of flame. "Go, go!"

Yanik led the Shadow Wolf contingent in joining the boarding teams' charge into the station. They found the corridors empty and depressurized as well. "Makes sense to fall back," Felix said. "A shame we couldn't get anyone onto the station core; they're going to make us pay to get through."

"Agreed, but I believe I have the answer to their defensive positions." Yanik hefted his assault gun.

Al-Lahim eyed it with surprise. "That's… God, my grandfather spoke of seeing videos of those being used against us when we warred with Sauria. How did you get one?"

"My own grandfather used it in those same wars," Yanik answered. "I am well aware of—"

Before he could finish, there was a vibration through the deck, powerful enough it seemed to shudder. "That felt like an explosion," Felix said.

"It did not sound like one due to no atmosphere?" Caetano asked.

Felix had nearly forgotten she was with the team. "Yeah. No air, so the explosion doesn't have a boom without air to push. Just vibration through the deck."

"Mines, most likely," al-Lahim suggested.

"Right." Felix sighed. "I was a fleet officer, dammit. What we need are Marines."

"They would be most useful." Yanik stepped ahead. "But they are not here. Nor is our 'ally'."

The others glanced around and confirmed to themselves that Kepper was gone. "He probably slipped away with the other boarders. Good riddance, if you ask me. That man was bad news."

"I don't think he will pose a threat," al-Lahim remarked. "He is here for his own mission. If we're lucky, maybe he'll distract them further."

"However that turns out, we should continue moving," said Yanik.

"You're the Second Mate. We're right behind you," Felix said, grinning slightly.

Breach of Faith

The Shadow Wolf pulled away from the enemy station just in time. Twelve League starfighters were already in open space, making strafing runs on the various privateer ships still trying to land boarding teams. Henry checked the holotank. "Cera, bring us up alongside the nearest ship still unloading. Piper, I want all guns focused on the League small craft."

Under Cera's expert control, the Shadow Wolf accelerated forward and carried them toward a hundred-meter-long converted liner. Henry guessed it was one of Dulaney's ships, likely set up to bring a larger number of troops. It was imperative to ensure they all got on the station. From what he could see, the liner's intraship tubes—typically meant for external docking to stations or ship-to-ship transfers—were being used to let the teams cut through the hull and enter the station. This would take longer than his method of dropping people directly into the hangar. The enemy fighters had seemingly keyed in on that as well.

Six of the enemy fighters screamed in for the transport, their plasma cannons blasting away at the liner's shields. The weapons were meant primarily to attack other light craft and didn't break through the deflectors on the ship. But given time they would, especially if joined by a volley of missiles.

"They haven't fired missiles yet," Tia noted. "How do they expect to get through the deflectors, then?"

"They're probably holding them in reserve in case we put our own fighters out," Henry said. But his face belied his own reservations about this. What are they up to?

Cera's course brought them to within engagement range. The six fighters broke away even before the quad-guns on the Wolf opened up. "Keep us alongside," Henry said. "Just in case they come back."

"Aye, sir," Cera said. "All set t' keep station."

Henry returned his attention to the holotank to get a feel for how things were progressing. Other captains that had already let their boarding teams off were taking up his decision, providing cover for the ships still offloading. A few others were darting around the station, trying to get clear shots at the remaining plasma cannon emplacements on the station without exposing themselves to fire at the same time. One ship miscalculated and took a barrage that battered down its deflectors. It survived the hits only by a sharp maneuver to port, getting back behind the station's core, and was grievously wounded by the weapons’ impacts.

As for Dulaney, he and the rest of the fleet were accelerating hard to intercept the outgoing League fleet. The stolen ships were burning for all they were worth for the Lawrence limit. Given the relative positioning and acceleration, Henry wasn't confident Dulaney could stop them from getting away, but if he destroyed enough, it might make the League's plans non-viable. It wasn't the assurance Henry would’ve preferred, but it would have to be enough.

"More fighters are launching," Piper said.

Twelve more fighters emerged into the void from another of the hangars, also still covered by the remaining plasma cannons. "Give me a visual," Henry said.

Tia did so.

Henry looked over the craft, which was a slightly aerodynamic box with its extendable atmospheric wings visible on the sides. Four plasma cannons were built into the "nose"—which was more of a chin—and belly of the craft while several hardpoints had weapons mounted.

Henry recognized them, since he'd seen them before in his career. "All ships, prepare for evasive maneuvers!" he called into the tactical commlink. "They've got anti-ship missiles!" He directed a glance to Piper. "Make sure the auto-turrets prioritize them above all other threats. Our deflectors can't take more than two hits, at best."

"I'll be ready for evasives," Cera promised.

The League fighter squadrons met up. With two losses to fire from the rest of the fleet, the initial twelve fighters were down to ten. Twenty-two fighters in total were not going to defeat the privateer fleet, not even this section of it. But Henry knew those anti-ship weapons could do a lot of damage before they were wiped out.

Their first clear target was another of the larger ships doing as Henry had done, dropping teams off via an intact hangar. The fighters lit off a missile each toward the big ship and its cover, one of the Cyrilgrad-crewed vessels. Point-defense fire met the incoming missiles. Had the two ships been military craft with their more sophisticated, and plentiful, point-defense systems, Henry would have written off the entire attack.

But these weren't military ships, and they didn't have the volume of fire to stop twelve missiles at such close range. In the end, half of the barrage hit home, four against the escorting ship and two against the larger ship. Both ships' deflectors failed from the attack. The Cyrilgrad ship suffered even further, taking two direct hits that blew the ship to pieces, while the big ship absorbed no further damage.

Henry found it curious. He would’ve focused fire on the landing ship, not the escort. Even if they weren't Hunter missiles, even standard weapons could have programming for prioritizing targets, so it wasn't a case that most of the weapons inbound for the larger ship were those lost to point-defense.

But I'm thinking like me. Leaguers don't always fight the same way. As he pondered the situation, it occurred to Henry why the League wouldn't prioritize ships still dropping boarding forces.

"Dammit," he muttered before keying all of his tactical links. "They're stalling," he said. "They want to drag this fight out as long as possible and take as many of us with them as they can."

"What makes you say that?" Tia asked.

"They're not worried about our boarding parties getting on-station," Henry said, his voice still carrying into the line. "I think they’ve written themselves off. Their goal now is to delay us to ensure their Q-ships accomplish whatever their mission is."

"Then they might overload reactors before we get to them," Piotr warned. "Should we recall teams?"

"No." Henry shook his head. "Our best chance of finding out what they're doing here is if we get access to their systems. We need our people to break through before they can overload their systems."

"You're asking me to endanger hundreds of lives," Dulaney pointed out. "We could just head to Lusitania and thwart them there."

"We don't even know what they're up to, Commodore. The less information we have, the harder this gets."

Henry waited for a response, knowing Dulaney's decision would decide everything through his control of the Trinidad Station contingent.

"We're committed already, I suppose," Dulaney conceded. "But I'll hold you personally responsible if we lose people needlessly, Captain Henry."

"Understood, Commodore," Henry said.

Once he removed his finger from the transmit switch, he noticed Tia giving him a worried look. "What?"

"He'll probably shoot you if this goes wrong," Tia said.

"Knowing his reputation? Yeah." Henry shrugged. "I wouldn't blame him. Besides, look on the bright side."

"What bright side?"

"The way things are set up, you'd get the ship," Henry said with a grin.

She gave him a bemused glance before returning her attention to her station.

The liner they were covering retracted its intraship tubes, leaving behind two holes in the station's hull. "It looks like most of the ships have put teams aboard," Tia said.

"Then let's get those fighters. Cera?" The tone in Henry's voice made clear what he was expecting.

"Bringin' the fusion drives online," she said.

Breach of Faith

Yanik and the others arrived at one of the shafts heading into the station's core section to the scene of a recently-ended battle. Several bodies were present, shot by varying kinds of weapons or, in one case, by the concussive force of an explosion. There were a few in League-modeled suits and slightly more wearing non-uniformed gear. "So we figure they're going to blow the station when it's clear we're about to take it, right?" Felix asked aloud.

"That would make sense," Miri agreed.

"It would." Al-Lahim knelt over one of the fallen bodies and whispered to himself, too low for the others to hear.

"So how do we stop them?"

"The most obvious solution is to take their engineering section before they can act," Yanik said. "Undoubtedly, they will expect this and have their strongest defenses there."

"At the same time, we need to get to their data cores before they wipe them completely," al-Lahim said. "I doubt they're near each other."

"Well, we're not alone in this," Felix pointed out. “The Trinidaders are going for the engineering spaces already. So which way should we go?"

"The data cores," suggested Caetano. "They contain what we need to stop the League. The station itself is a secondary objective. If we transmit the data to the fleet, we win."

"And possibly get blown up," Yanik noted.

"Yes." Caetano shrugged. "But I'm willing to die to save my homeworld, Mister S'srish. I suspect you're as much a being of duty as I am."

Yanik appraised her quietly. "Your point, it is proper. We will devote ourselves to recovering the data, then."

Their trip down the shaft soon led them to where the other teams were crouched behind cover. One of them, a Cyrilgrad native, motioned to the group. He spoke entirely in Russian and stopped when he didn't see immediate recognition. Miri replied in the same language and prompted him to continue. When he was finished, she said, "He says they're in a strong position ahead, and his people are waiting for a heavy weapon squad."

"Tell his people to be ready," Yanik said. He pulled his heavy plasma gun from his shoulder. The Cyrilgrad man stared in surprise at it while Miri spoke in Russian, relaying Yanik's remark. The man started barking to the others in the same language while Yanik moved ahead.

The Leaguers were holding a bulkhead section in the passageway. Small deflector stands provided them additional protection, and they had rifles up and firing. Already, four fallen boarders spanned the area between the two sections. Their fire was sporadic, meant to harass and suppress.

Yanik brought his weapon up and triggered it. The barrels at the front started rotating, spewing yellow-tinged plasma downrange at the enemy position. The lack of atmosphere meant there were no screams or shouts, but from the chaotic return fire and the distant flaring of material being sheared by powerful plasma blasts, it was clear Yanik's weapon was ripping through the Leaguers.

The leader of the Cyrilgrad unit shouted something, and with a resounding "Urraaah!", his troopers shot forward, sticking to the sides of the tube to avoid Yanik's barrage.

Yanik ceased firing only when it was clear that maintaining the fire would endanger their allies. He lowered his weapon and turned to the others. "The way is clear," he said. "We should proceed."

"Yanik." Felix stared at him. "You…"

Yanik glanced down. His suit was burnt open in three places. Blood leaked from one of the wounds, the other two being cauterized automatically by the weapons in question. One of the cauterized wounds was over his belly. "Yes, it hurts," he confirmed. "But my suit protected me from the worst. Now let's go." Without further comment, he turned and continued walking.

The others followed.


Dueling with fighters armed for anti-ship combat was easier with another fighter rather than a ship. Small craft were maneuverable enough to avoid missiles ships couldn’t easily defeat. Electronic spoofing and point-defense fire were the standard defense against such platforms. There were, in fact, picket ships designed solely for such warfare in various space fleets.

The Shadow Wolf didn't have the luxury of such hardware. It had its auto-turrets and the possibility one of the quad gunners might get a lucky shot on a missile.

What it also had was a pilot willing to strain her ship to the breaking point and a fusion drive with a large amount of raw acceleration—Cera had a lot to work with.

Henry felt 2.5Gs press him into his chair. As usual, the Shadow Wolf's inertial compensators were overwhelmed by the fusion drive's power. Yet he didn't dare allow the thrust to be reduced. Two anti-ship missiles were still bearing down on the Shadow Wolf, courtesy of the League fighters.

"They're still locked on," Piper said. "Auto-turrets are tracking but not hitting. I should add we're starting to run low on ammunition."

"Understood," was all Henry would say. All he could say really.

Cera maneuvered the Shadow Wolf sharply to throw off one missile on its terminal course. It flew on past the Shadow Wolf and turned to re-acquire. The other missile remained on track to hit the ship.

Then Cera rotated the ship, twisting to starboard, and used the thrusters to "raise" the bow sharply. The change in their velocity and positioning caused the other incoming missile to fly right past, barely two meters from the deflectors.

The other missile was on them again. But here, Cera's twisting maneuver showed another advantage as it presented both quad turrets on the port side, as well as the auto-turrets, to the same missile. The volunteers manning the quads opened fire along with the computer systems controlling the auto-turrets, sending streams of pulse fire, and magnetically-propelled projectiles into the missile's path. It fired its maneuvering drives in an attempt to evade, and did indeed avoid the first shots. But one of the quad turret gunners tracked with the missile enough to block its movement, allowing the auto-turret systems to re-engage successfully. A projectile slammed into the middle of the missile's body and tore its guts out, killing the engine. The rocket lost all acceleration and maneuvering power. A pulse blast from one of the quads killed it.

That left one warhead coming for them. It was already turning to re-acquire. Cera continued to twist and push the ship, changing their vector again to avoid exposing themselves to the remnant plasma cannons on the space station.

"League missile has reacquired us,” Piper called out.

Henry checked the holotank. Their deflectors could possibly take one missile hit, but he didn't want to have any more coming for them. Fortunately, it seemed the enemy fighters were already losing the battle of attrition. Three of the privateer ships were crippled or dead, but only four of the small craft remained.

Then a new contact appeared on the holotank, right beside the station. Henry asked, "What's that ship?" just before the icon turned amber, showing it was giving off a League IFF signal.

"Fast, for one," Piper said. "It looks like it's got its own fusion drive."

"Huh. That's a new one." Fusion drives were still pretty rare in the League, from what Henry knew. He almost asked if anyone could intercept, but it was clear the answer was "only if they want to get shot at." The ship was staying in the fire zone of the surviving plasma cannons.

"Maybe the League commander is making a run for it," Tia suggested. “He wouldn't be the first, I'm sure."

"Yes and no. Running for it doesn't always work for the League. They shoot people who run unless they're good at spin-doctoring."

All through the conversation, Cera kept them burning, trying to avoid the remaining missile or at least delay its impact. Point-defenses engaged and still failed to hit. The quad turrets tried as well to no success.

"Captain, I've an idea," Cera said. "Permission t' maneuver freely?"

Henry nodded. "Permission granted."

Cera immediately turned the ship back toward the station. Henry's heart pounded as he realized she was about to put them through the space between the core, the linking columns, and the outer torus. He forced himself not to speak; he'd given her permission, now he had to trust her.

"Cera, what the hell?" Tia demanded.

"Let's see how good that damn missile really is," Cera said. There was a telltale tone in her lilt, a frightening one hinting at the "devil-may-care" bluster that some pilots could easily attain when they got to be so outstanding, they were in a class by themselves.

The liquid crystal layer of the forward internal bridge wall showed the League station coming closer and closer, including the rather small-looking gap that Cera was apparently looking to slip them through. The station twisted on the viewer, showing her twisting of the ship's attitude in order to slip through.

"Oh Christ," Piper breathed in disbelief as they neared the gap.

And then they went through. To any another ship observing, it was a spectacular moment, the Shadow Wolf barely seeming to squeeze past an impossibly small hole. A second later, there was a burst of light and energy as the missile collided with the station's core, blasting away a chunk of it. Debris poured from the wound until the compartment was sealed off by bulkheads.

Henry took in a breath. "Cera, good job," he said. "If you ever do that again, warn us to close our eyes first so we don't have heart attacks."

Cera giggled at him. "If that's how ye'd prefer it, fine. I thought it was nice an' excitin' myself." She glanced back at him with mischievous twinkle in her eye.

"All enemy fighters are destroyed," Piper said, relief in her voice. "So long as we stay clear of those functioning plasma cannons, we're out of danger."

"Not all of us," Henry reminded her, thinking of the team still on the station. "Give us a station-keeping position, Cera. Let's see how this goes."

"Aye, sir.”

“And, Piper? Some scans of the station, please, especially the engineering section." A thought came to him, or rather, a plan in the formative stages. "I want some insurance in case they try to blow their reactors."

Breach of Faith

The fight into the core section of the station was not an easy one. Yanik's injuries forced him to be more careful, so the assaults were more often carried by prudent and judicious use of force grenades and charges. The going only got easier when they heard another of the boarding teams had already made it into the core, which forced the enemy to start pulling back.

They entered the interior sections to find them in the same condition as the torus had been. "They're depressurizing the station as they fall back," Felix observed. "They can't think it'll delay us?"

"They will do so just for the off-chance of causing a delay," observed Miri. "They’re trying to hold us here as long as possible. To protect their wider operation."

"Then we should get to the computer processing systems as quickly as possible," said al-Lahim. "Before they decide to blow the station."

"This station is similar to the one they assembled in orbit over Lowery," she said. "It's a standard traffic control and fleet support facility. I believe I can lead us to our objective."

"Then by all means, lead away."

"What about S'srish?" Caetano asked. She looked to where Yanik was leaning slightly across the wall. He'd taken a couple more injuries but still hadn't headed to the wounded aid stations left in secured areas.


Before Yanik could answer, another voice cut in. "Saurian physiology can be quite robust. They heal very well by nature." Oskar emerged from the open portal leading to the connecting tube to the torus. He was in a soft suit as well with an active medical scanner in one hand, and a pack slung over his back. Jules followed, pulling along a small cart full of other medical supplies. "And the suit's compartmental system protects him from losing his internal air. I may have to order him on light duty for a few days, and he will be eating us out of house and home—"

"Like he doesn't already," guffawed Felix.

"—but he should be fine for now," Oskar finished, pointedly ignoring Felix.

"I needed only a moment; these injuries are still painful," noted Yanik. He moved away from the wall. "I am able to continue."

"Then follow me," said Miri.

Breach of Faith

In the command center of Pluto Base, which was one of the few areas to still have full power, atmosphere, and gravity, Captain Caillaux observed his dire situation with fatalist detachment. He was ready for death. Death was an end to the all-consuming duty to society that had devoured his life, torn him from family and home, and left him alone all these years.

The markings on his holotank told the tale. They'd lost control of most of the outer torus and those soldiers remaining there were cut off from the rest of the station. All four of the connecting tubes were in enemy hands. His crew were fighting with Socially-inspired bravery, to be certain, and doing him proud. But the enemy had numbers and, if not training, a particular initiative and drive that constantly told in the fights. He might have an hour, maybe an hour and a half, before the station fell.

The time would still be useful. He checked the holotank showing the situation around them, but since it was focused on the environs of the station, he also asked, "Sensors, what is the status of the Altair? And our Q-ship fleet?"

"The Altair has successfully burned out of the immediate zone," the officer answered succinctly. "There are two enemy ships attempting a parabolic intercept course, but they lack the acceleration to catch the admiral before his ship reaches the jump limit. As for the fleet, they are now approaching the limit. Jumping should commence in thirty seconds."

"How many?"

"They still have thirty-one vessels in the fleet."

Caillaux sighed. That was smaller than he'd hoped, but it should still be big enough to make the operation feasible. It was with the plan in mind that he asked his next question. "Has Commander Li departed yet?"

"No, sir. His ship is still in the hangar. His transponder shows he's still aboard the station and approaching his ship."

There was nothing Caillaux could do for Li but hope for his success. Instead, he considered the issue of his Social duty as he'd pledged to Admiral Hartford. His hand went to the internal comm controls and keyed an internal channel. "Engineering, Command. Commander Lauritz, are you there?"

"We read you, Captain," replied the woman in charge of the engineering section.

"Finish preparations to overload the reactors. If you lose contact with me, initiate the overload immediately."

There was only a brief pause before the reply came. "I understand, Captain. For society."

"For society," he repeated in agreement.

Breach of Faith

The time to get into a softsuit delayed Li's return to his ship, and the beginning of boarding actions made it even more difficult. He had to enter the section of the torus no longer controlled by League crew to get to his ship. Avoiding the boarders required utilizing the subsystem access tubes, tight, cramped areas for the maintenance and repair teams to get direct access to some of the station's systems infrastructure. After twenty minutes of crawling through the dark, he finally reached the access corridor to his hangar.

Li continued down the corridor, gun in hand, and found no opposition. When he got to the hangar door, he frowned at the sight. It was forced open.

He stopped here and glanced in. To his relief, his ship was still intact. The outer hangar door was likewise blasted open, exposing the hangar to space. Two suited boarding team members were watching his vessel. From their body language, he could see they were still reasonably alert; worse, they had rifles. This will be difficult… but not impossible.

Li checked the charge level of his particle pistol to ensure it was ready. When he was reassured it was, he pulled his tablet from his waist and used it to remotely access the ship. He glanced back to see where the guards were and was in time to see one move to the other end of the vessel in a patrol pattern. His distraction plan could now prove even more useful.

As soon as the man approached the rear of the ship, Li remotely activated the engines and put them on low thrust. It wouldn't be enough to beat the magnetic locks in the landing gear holding his ship there, but that was fine by him, as he didn't even want the craft to move. He just wanted its drives to flare to life.

They did so with immediacy. The patrolling enemy seemed to notice the sudden light and raised an arm in protest before the plume of plasma engulfed him. The airlessness of the hangar kept Li from hearing any cries of surprise from the hot, terrible death.

The other guard turned toward the powerful engine with incredulity. Without waiting further, Li stepped into the hangar with his gun raised. Again, there was no sound due to the vacuum, but the brilliant flashes and their effects on the human body were still there. Li's opponent didn't collapse so much as stop moving in place, since there was no gravity to make him fall, just the magboots that kept the invader's feet attached to the ship.

Free and clear at last, Li used his codes to enter the vessel. After closing and securing his airlock door, and verifying nobody had slipped in after all, he went to the cockpit and brought his ECM systems online as well as the deflectors. Only then did he fire the engines to full and rush out of the hangar.

For cases like this, his ship was built for bursts of speed. He couldn't keep it going without risking running out of fuel for his systems, but Li could at least sustain the high burn to get clear. The burn was such that it pushed him into his chair, overwhelming the inertial compensators until he was experiencing nearly 2Gs of force. It was painful but necessary, since the acceleration was building his speed to the jump limit and making an intercept more difficult. When he saw there were no ships attempting an intercept, he cut the thrust down and enjoyed relief.

A small grin came to his face. He'd gotten away. All he had to do now was join Zervakos' squadron and watch the League's triumph.

Breach of Faith

Miri's memories and intuition proved correct. Her memory of the Lowery Station layout matched that of this base. Signs in English, Russian, French, and Chinese announced the location of the "Primary Database Access Center" behind a set of sliding double doors. Felix and al-Lahim used hand motions with the others on approach to the door. It was closed and locked. Yanik held his gun ready but heeded al-Lahim's motion not to fire, since his weapon could penetrate the door and damage the computers inside. "We could call to the other teams and ask for a breaching charge," Felix proposed.

"That won't be necessary." Miri walked to the side of the door and crouched. The lights on her softsuit helmet played along the floor, a layer of ash-gray insulated carpeting meant entirely for function, not aesthetic. Miri's hands ran along the edge of the material until her fingers seemed to find purchase on something. A panel came up in the thin space between the insulating material and the wall itself. She reached in and looked up. "A manual release lever."

"On the outside?" Yanik asked. "That is not very secure."

"It makes sense," said Miri. "Without it, someone could conceivably seal themselves in the access center. That is a greater worry to League Security than someone breaking in. After all, there are other countermeasures for external threats. Anyway, signal me when you're ready."

The others moved into position around the door. Yanik nodded to her, and Miri pulled the lever.

The door slid open, and they moved in, weapons at the ready. They found a handful of technicians at various stations working the systems. Each was staring at the door. As if with one will, they went for weapons.

With the exception of Yanik, the others started pulling their triggers. One by one, shots claimed the technicians. Only one got off a shot that whizzed by al-Lahim's head to no effect. It was clear they hadn't been trained for any kind of fight, and with the element of surprise, it made the exchange an outright slaughter.

Miri went for one of the workstations and al-Lahim for another. Felix stared down at one of the bodies. He was a young man of dark brown coloring, baby-faced and young. His eyes were opened wide, as if his death came as a shock. Felix swallowed and shook his head. "Christ, some of them, they're just kids."

"There are young warriors on both sides of the war," Yanik remarked.

"Except they weren't warriors, not soldiers. They were just a bunch of techies. Should've surrendered. Would have surrendered if the League were halfway sane."

"On this, they aren’t," al-Lahim said, his attention still on the workstation he'd appropriated. "They never have been."

Felix forced himself to look away to where Miri was accessing the system. "So can we get to the good stuff?"

"Well, there are some permissions we'll need time to get through to access everything," Miri answered. "Although I'm already seeing some interesting information in their basic database. The station's been here for nearly a year, although it took them three months to finish setting up. There's references to a 'Operation: Ehud' and 'Project Underworld'. A couple of other operations too, but they're heavily encrypted."

"Decrypt them?"

"Starting to. Abdul—"

"I'm entering the station's control systems. Some of it's going to be encrypted, but give me time and I can take over the station."

"The moment either of you find anything about the League's operation here, start transmitting it to the fleet," said Felix. He motioned to the others. "Let's cover the doors. Just in case."

Breach of Faith

Caillaux was staring at the internal security grid cameras, tracking the enemy's advance to the command center, when one of his officers spoke up. "Sir, there’s anomalous access in progress within the primary data center. Someone's accessing our encrypted files and station control protocols."

Caillaux turned his attention to that section of the station. The transponders for the technicians were no longer transmitting. The boarders sent a team for the data center? It won't help them hold control of the station… oh no. "Do we have any teams that can retake the center?" He looked over the station map, guessing which group might try.

After several queries to the various officers leading the defense, Caillaux's officer replied, "We do, but they are several levels away, it will take them at least fifteen minutes to get into position."

He sighed. That was far too long for experienced personnel to crack computer encryption and find information. He had to stop them now. "Then we have come to the end." He triggered the intercom. "Commander Lauritz, begin the overload."

The reply was immediate. "Yes, Captain."


It had been some time since Miri had gone trawling through League databases. After a moment's consideration, she realized the last time had, in fact, been in the company of al-Lahim, back when he was training to be part of CIS. She'd demonstrated how League systems worked using a captured dataset and helped the would-be operatives learn the best ways in.

Despite the conservative bent in the League, where suggesting the wrong innovation or change could lead to swift punishment for "undermining society," their computer security still evolved. Security was always a paramount concern to them, especially within the military. Miri could see some of those improvements in the system as she tried to access it.

While those changes were noticeable, certain fundamental elements seemed to be the same. Miri found in them enough commonality to let her start processing through the encryption. She soon found specialized files. They were logs of the captured ships and the modifications done. "This isn't their operational plan, but it's a start," she said aloud while setting up the transfer. "Do we have control of their communications system yet?"

"I'm establishing it now," said al-Lahim. "Then I— " He drew in a breath. "Oh no."

"What?" Felix asked.

"Sensors in the engineering section are showing an increase to the reactor output. It's already at a hundred percent and climbing." Al-Lahim's voice held its usual calm tenor. "It looks like a deliberate overload."

"Well, crap." Felix took out his commlink and tapped the key for the established channel to the Shadow Wolf. "Jim, we've got a problem…"

Breach of Faith

Felix's warning was unnecessary. Piper had, in fact, already spotted the thermal spike in the reactors. Henry knew very well what was happening. "Found what we need yet?"

"Gaon's still looking."

"They need to get out of there," Tia insisted.

Henry didn’t disagree, but he knew it wasn't so simple. "Check with the others, see if they're pulling their people out. Piper, did you finish those scans?"

"I did the best I could," she said. With a couple taps of her keys, she overlaid the scan results onto the image shown on the wall display. "What were you looking for?"

"Their fuel tanks." Henry hit the transmit key again. "Felix, everyone else, can you tell me where the tanks for their reactors are?"

"I'll ask."

"Do you think taking the tanks out will help?" Tia asked.

"If we take out enough, they won't have the fuel to finish the overload," he said.

"And we don't just shoot their engineering section because…"

"...because if we don't clip the fuel first, the reactors might blow early."

Tia nodded and said, "Right," as if confirming a fact.

"We're sending you the fuel tank locations now. They're dispersed throughout the station, so you’ll have your hands full."

Piper obligingly put the data up. Henry grinned. While Felix was right about their distribution, it looked like the main tanks were kept closer to the reactors. "Piper, get me a firing solution."

"Given how deep they are, a neutron cannon shot is best," Piper said. "Cera, I'm sending you the position data."

"Received. Movin' into position."

The Shadow Wolf's maneuvering thrusters fired, pushing the ship into place for the necessary shot. "Bringing fusion drive online," Cera added.

Henry accepted the report without another word. They'd only get a couple of shots from the cannon, most likely, before they had to shut down the fusion drive or start using it. He'd prefer not having to do so, given the heavy use the system had already seen. "Shoot when ready."

It didn’t take long for the drive to recharge the neutron cannon's capacitors. The flip of a switch retracted the covering plates hiding the barrel of the weapon. A moment later, the white-blue beam speared through what, to Henry's current position, was the "bottom" of the League station. Since its deflectors were long disabled, and they were within the perimeter of that field anyway, there was nothing stopping the beam from slicing through the station's hull. Debris and flame erupted from the wound the Shadow Wolf's big gun carved into the station. After a few seconds, it fired again, with the same effect.

"Lots of helium-3 venting there," Piper said. "I'd say we got both main tanks."

"Reactors still overloading?"

"Thermal signature's staying the same."

That was what Henry wanted to hear. It meant they didn't have the fuel to finish the overload. Even if they intentionally broke open their reactor chambers, it would only cause their own deaths, not the destruction of the whole station. For the first time since they jumped into the system, he relaxed in his chair. "Keep an eye on them anyway. We'll blast more fuel tanks if we need to."

"Will do," said Piper.

Breach of Faith

Al-Lahim and Miri were still hard at work trying to get into the computer systems, making full use of the reprieve won for them by the Shadow Wolf. Yanik, Felix, and Caetano took up positions at the two main doors. Their weapons were at the ready. Yanik seemed the most withdrawn of them all, but that was because he was listening carefully.

"They are coming," he said as he gestured at both doors. He brought his gun up while the other two guarded the second door.

"Can't risk an assault in here," Felix said. "If they shoot up the computer cores, it could cost us the info we need."

"Then we do the unexpected," said Caetano. "We attack."

"That is the best way to deal with an attack," affirmed Yanik. It was, at least, his preferred way of dealing with an attack.

The moment each door opened, they started firing. Not just starting to fire, but moving forward as if to charge from the room.

Yanik was, understandably, the more successful with this tactic. His weapons' sheer firepower quickly felled those Leaguers ready to rush the room on his end. Had they been Marines, a counterattack would have punished him for this, but like before, they were ordinary crew on the station given arms and told to fight. Their morale collapsed against the very real danger of his weapon, and they scurried for cover.

On the other end, Felix and Caetano opened fire with their borrowed rifles the moment the door slid open. They claimed two in the first shot and two more in the next shot. But they didn't have a heavy weapon like Yanik's that forced everyone to hide behind something or die. They took return fire that blasted at their soft suits. Felix felt the burn of a hit on his right arm and grimaced, fighting back the pain and trying to track the shooter.

Caetano nailed the shooter first, but there were at least two more. One round hit her shoulder, another the right side of her belly, and a third grazed her left arm. The softsuit absorbed some of the impacts, but not all, and she fell back into the data center.

Felix withdrew with her, still firing short bursts. "Status?" he asked.

"I'm alive," she replied, voice laden with pain.

"Right." Felix's gun blazed again and this time caught one of the remaining Leaguers as she tried to get to the door for a clear shot.

A second shooter was already drawing a bead on him. Time seemed to slow as he brought his weapon over, even as he knew it wouldn't get into position in time.

Caetano's rifle fired. The pulses of light struck the Leaguer straight in the heart, killing him instantly.

They remained where they were, Felix still standing; Caetano, on the floor, barely sitting up. Each waited anxiously to see if another attacker would come. When it had been clear for thirty seconds, Felix leaned over and helped Caetano up.

That, of course, was when a Leaguer chose to show up, rifle up and ready to fire.

There was the bark of a gun, a League pistol, Felix was sure. He expected to find himself shot. When he didn't, and when it was clear Caetano hadn't been either, he watched the Leaguer collapse. The back of his head steamed through the remains of his suit's helmet.

Oskar stepped into sight. A League-made pistol, the one he always kept in the infirmary, was in his hand. Felix looked through his faceplate to see the pained look on his face. "I'm sorry," he said to the dead man. His eyes tracked to them, and concern replaced that pain. "You're wounded."

"Yeah, but still alive, thanks to you."

Oskar nodded but remained silent. His focus immediately went to Caetano, where she was sitting against the frame of the doorway. He used his medical scanner to check her condition. "I'll need to get her back to my infirmary as soon as possible," he said, even as he unslung his medical pack. Behind him, other boarding parties were sweeping by. "You'll be all right," he assured her.

She said nothing in reply. Felix got the idea that she was disappointed. He turned away from her to check up on the others. Yanik seemed unhurt, at least, and Miri and al-Lahim were still working on the computers. "Got our smoking gun yet?" he asked.

"Well, we can prove the League captured the stolen ships," Miri noted. "We have the reports and requisition orders for the armaments they were refitted with. But I'm still looking for something about their end goal. At least twenty percent of the data cores were wiped before we got here."

"I've taken control of most of their systems," al-Lahim added. "Although I won't be able to shut down their fusion cores from here. At least there's no longer a risk of overload. Their fuel lines are compromised, and they've lost the main helium-3 tanks."

"Start bringing back atmosphere and gravity, if you can," Felix said. "It'll make this easier."


Breach of Faith

Miri, meanwhile, was carefully examining the data files. The League computer techs had done an admirable job ensuring there could be no recovery of the lost data. She felt a worry they might not find what was needed. Most of the materials here were basic day-to-day operative logs. Personnel matters, supplies, maintenance and repair reports.

Then came the surveillance systems.

There was too much to look through, given the League watched everything, but she had an idea. She examined the feeds until she found what she wanted: the surveillance of Hartford's office. She brought it up on her monitor. A simple search parameter, part of the system, helpfully eliminated the hours when he wasn't present. She added a second check for other personnel in the office. When that seemed too much, she narrowed it to External Security, which was still quite extensive, but not impossibly so. She triggered the system to upload the data into the Shadow Wolf's available computer space before she started watching the video for herself.

Breach of Faith

As the red spread through the sections of Pluto Base's image on his holotank, Captain Caillaux felt a deep sense of despair. The reactors couldn't overload due to the damage to the fuel systems, and the counterattack to retake the data center failed. He'd failed Admiral Hartford and society.

With computer access being sequestered from his command center and the station nearly fallen, most of his officers were taking cover, prepared to fight to the bitter end. He didn't join them. Not because he intended to surrender, but because he hoped that the sight of him unarmed would lull their boarding parties into assuming surrender. Then his officers could get the benefit of surprise and possibly take down some of the boarding teams. Even if he couldn't destroy them all as directed, he would at least be fulfilling his orders to the best of his remaining ability. Social duty would be upheld, and hopefully, his family wouldn’t suffer for his failure.

The doors blew open from a blasting charge. Caillaux watched the armed figures, wearing a variety of hardsuits and softsuits, enter. He held his hands up as if to surrender.

They opened fire anyway.

Caillaux went down in pain and, after several seconds, an increasing terror in the pit of his stomach at the realization that this was, indeed, the end of existence for him. As a pitch blackness came over his consciousness, he found himself thinking of his family back on Thibould and how much he missed his old life. At the shrinking periphery of his senses, he heard gunfire, cries, and screaming.

Then there was nothing but darkness.

Breach of Faith

The confirmation of their success came from Piotr Tokarev, his voice a welcome end to the tense quiet on the Shadow Wolf bridge. "My brother reports their command center has been taken," he said on the open tactical channel. "Their remaining cannons no longer fire. The engineering section is all that remains. It fall shortly."

Henry took the news with a smile. "Good work."

"And we've found the crews of the missing ships too," al-Lahim said over the line. "The League turned off their life support and gravity when the boarding started, but they're still alive. I've taken enough control to circulate atmosphere back into their section."

Tia smiled. "At least those people get to go home now."

"At least. They can also testify to what happened… and a lot of other things." Henry was already wondering how much therapy would be necessary, given the traumas undoubtedly inflicted by the League. Knowing the League's usual behavior, they'd turned a section of their station into a re-education camp.

"Dulaney here. If everything's clear, we're going to start docking. But we probably shouldn't linger. The League will respond eventually, and I don't want to be here when they do. Plus there's the matter of their remaining Q-ships."

"We must assume they're going forward with their plans," Henry stated. "We're getting a data dump from their cores now. We're ready to transfer as we get it. Honestly, I'm not sure we have the room in our systems for all the data."

Dulaney answered quickly. "Mad Hatter is ready to receive."

"As is Morozova.”

Tia tapped at her station controls. "Transmission in progress."

"Any hangars big enough for us, Cera?" Henry asked. "Big enough and intact, I mean."

"Lookin' now… ah, I think I see one, sir. Under one of th' cannons. Well, former cannons, as it looks like th' other ships are takin' 'em out t' be on th' safe side."

"Then take us in."

As the Shadow Wolf began moving, Henry found he wasn't getting the usual post-crisis easing of tension he enjoyed. Because this isn't over, he reminded himself. We've still got to stop the other half of their plan.

Breach of Faith

While the station's fusion cores were now mostly off-line, the battery backups were sufficient to provide some lighting to the data center and restore atmosphere and partial gravity. While this made the work of those bringing the rescued spacers to departing ships easier, it did little to alleviate Miri's most significant issue: the sheer number of times Hartford met with his security officers.

They discussed the operation, of course, but never to the extent of explaining what they were doing. It made sense for them, since the participants were fully briefed, but it made Miri's job all the harder.

"I thought CIS was paranoid," al-Lahim said. "It's almost as if the League knew we'd take the station."

"It's not prophecy, it's Hartford. It appears he will go to any measure to prevent the possibility of his plans leaking. He must have laid out the operational plan somewhere else, with non-electronic communication to facilitate everything." Miri didn't let herself laugh at the realization that this was her fault. Her success at Lowery had made Hartford paranoid about sharing information.

"Well, we can at least prove the ships in question were seized by the League."

"That won't stop them from completing whatever it is they're up to." Miri shook her head. "And the League's always had a silver tongue. I don't want them weaseling out of this." She focused her attention on a recording nine months old, near the start of the operation. An African-descended officer was with Hartford. Aristide, given the names mentioned. They were speaking about the progression of events on Lusitania.

As Miri watched, Hartford was distracted by a call. Moments later, the door opened, and two figures entered. One Miri already knew from prior records: Commander Chantavit Li, the League External Security Officer who attacked Captain Henry in Gamavilla and Vitorino's contact with the League. On the screen, Hartford addressed the new arrivals sternly for interrupting him.

Miri wasn't quite paying attention to that. Her eyes were on the man who accompanied Li.

Breach of Faith

Light years away, in an empty solar system, the same figure was on Li's screen. "Everything is in order, I assure you. As soon as the fleet is in combat range, the code gets sent."

Li spoke with a cold tone. "See that they are. The fleet's losses are already going to make this difficult. If they have to fight a proper battle with the Lusitanian military, it will ruin everything. Li out." He said the last two words curtly, not wanting any more discussion. Anger and frustration filled him like never before. More than a year of careful work might be undone in the next several days. Indeed, they were already on the cusp of failure. After months of everything running smoothly, the operation hung by a thread. All because of Hartford's obsession with Miriam Gaon.

He uttered a resigned sigh. There was little more Li could do now. He would keep jumping until he linked up with the Marat, and from there, he would oversee the rest of the operation. For now, he still had a couple of hours before he could safely jump again. He lifted himself from the chair and turned.

Fire exploded through his right knee and leg, forcing Li to the ground. The sudden agony shocked him so thoroughly that he failed to reach for his weapon right away, indeed, failed to do anything but cry out from the blow. By the time he started to recover, a shadow was already cast over him.

He glanced up and saw a human face with the eyes of a monster.

Breach of Faith

"Well, well." Allen Kepper grinned at the sight of his quarry on the ground, wounded. "Nice to meet you in person, Commander." He kept his gun up while kicking Li onto his side. He intentionally set his foot on Li's wounded knee and applied weight, drawing an even greater cry of pain while he reached down and plucked the Leaguer’s sidearm from the belt holster. He tossed the pistol to the other side of the cockpit.

"Kepper." Li's voice was hoarse. "What… what are you doing here? How…?!"

The smile on Kepper's face betrayed the anticipation filling him. His urges were begging for release and anticipating the same. Expectation almost made him shiver. "Leaguer computer security isn't all it's cracked up to be. It wasn't hard to slip into your nice ship. As for what I'm doing here… we call it payback, Li." He crouched down to the fallen League officer. "The insults were bad enough. Trying to have me killed like I was a trusting moron? That made it personal."

"You failed," Li retorted. "And you made excuses!"

"Valid reasons. Had you not tried to kill me, had you worked with me, I'd have gotten you the Gaon woman on Lusitania instead of what I actually did." Kepper felt a thrill as he said, "Which was to plant a tracker on your ship."

Li's eyes widened. "No. You—"

"Micro-QETs are a bitch to find, Li. Requires close visual inspection of the hull. You people really should consider that." Kepper chuckled. "So yeah, I gave Captain Henry and all the other privateers your location. I wasn't sure what they'd find, of course, but I figured it'd be good, and it'd hurt you. More importantly, I knew it'd lead me to getting a chance for some one-on-one time." Kepper stepped past Li and leaned over the controls. "Hrm. Looks like you've loaded coordinates to meet with some League military ship. It'd be an awful shame for the privateers to find out where, wouldn't it?”

Li sneered, defiant to the end. "They're already damaged fighting our Q-Ships. They wouldn't last against a squadron."

"Yeah, well, that's on them. For me, the fun would be that it'd probably still ruin your plan." Kepper fought his urges down again with the promise of eventual release. "You’ve put a lot of work into this, haven't you?"

The sneer turned into a frown. "We'll still win, you know," he said, as if he might yet deter Kepper. "Even if you stop us here. The League will triumph. There is nothing you do that can stop this galaxy from being Socialized. People like you won't have a place in it."

Kepper chuckled. "I like the way you people always use the word 'Socialized.' I can practically hear the capital 'S' every time." He reached over and started tapping at the communications controls. "Do you think I give a damn, Li? I don't care how good you think your people are, the galaxy will always have need of people like me." He returned his attention to the station while he again applied pressure to Li's wound with his foot. He audibly groaned at the increase in pain it caused.

A few moments later, the image of Captain Henry appeared on one of the side monitors. "Kepper? This is a direct line through the League base's interstellar comms. Where the hell are you?"

"I'm aboard Commander Li's personal ship." Kepper glanced down at Li. "I'm not sure why you even care. Our deal is complete."

"What exactly are you up to?"

"Oh, Commander Li and I are about to have a very long conversation about business, pleasure, and why it's best to not make things personal." Kepper's hand went over the controls, accessing the navigational system and triggering it to relay through the commlink. "As a bonus for your work in bringing me to my destination, Captain, this is the system Li was heading to in order to meet with a League warship squadron. They're involved in whatever operation the League's been up to. Please go thwart it." Kepper glanced down to Li, who frowned back. "I want him to know failure before he dies."

Henry's expression was stony, but he said nothing to oppose the idea. "We'll take any information we can get."

"I thought you’d say that. You're a reasonable man, after all. Good luck." He tapped a final key to transmit the final destination in the navigational system. "Kepper out." A last button press ended the call.

Li's wound still hobbled him, but Kepper could see the look in his eye. He was trying to find an angle, preparing to make his move. So he stepped back to give himself space and promptly shot Li in the left hip. The Leaguer crumbled belly first to the floor. Pain was visible in his face. So was rage.

Kepper didn't take chances. His next shots went through Li's shoulders, effectively crippling his arms. This satisfied Kepper that his quarry was ready for the fun part. He set the gun down and put his hands on Li's ankles to pull him into the ship's cabin, or a corner of it anyway. The wounds to the man’s legs drew a series of short cries from the pain.

Once he had him in place, Kepper let out a breath. His mind swam with need as blood filled his thoughts, warm and vibrant and smelling of iron fear and crimson pain. It'd been so long since he got to feel it.

"You're just like all the rest," Li hissed. "A beast."

The remark didn't break Kepper from enjoying the anticipation he felt. After a moment to savor it, he turned his eyes to Li again and gave the kind of smile that predators reserved for a much-needed meal. "And you hired me anyway," he cooed. "So what's that say about you?" He reached into his belt and pulled out a knife. It was not a small knife. The blade was over twenty centimeters long, curved, and wicked. "You know what happens to people who poke beasts, right?" He leaned in close, as if to whisper into his ear.

He didn't whisper, though. He only sighed in satisfaction as he pushed the blade into Li's belly. A gasp of agony came from the League officer.

That did it. The last self-imposed fetter came off. Allen Kepper let his urges take him over completely.

For his part, Chantavit Li knew pain, felt fear, and then, after a very long and excruciating experience, he died.


The privateer fleet was enjoying its victory in the manner one would expect: looting everything they could from the League station, "Pluto Base" as they now knew it, while preparation was made to destroy it as a final gesture of defiance to the League. This extended to outside the base as Dulaney's fleet worked to restore the ships crippled by the EMP weapon and take control of the League Q-ships still intact enough to be salvaged. Their legitimate owners weren't likely to appreciate the condition those ships were in—or their crews, for that matter—but there was expectation of some appreciation for their return.

Henry and his crew had other matters to concern them. They weren't in this for loot but to thwart the League. Now, thanks to Miri Gaon and Allen Kepper, they had a shot at it.

Everyone was in the rec room, gathered around the active holovid display. Today, it wasn’t showing movies, but displaying the data Kepper sent. A B4 star within one jump of Lusitania in an empty system, to be specific, labeled TR-209.

"It's a good pick for a system to hide in," Tia said. "Unsettled, rarely used. It has an old derelict fueling station that gathers helium-3 from one of the gas giants. If they reactivate it, they've got free fuel."

"My thought the moment I heard 209 was their spot," Henry said.

"You're sure it's not a trick?" asked Brigitte. "This guy was a piece of work, I mean."

"He is, but his reputation would hint it's not," al-Lahim answered. "He was in this to get revenge, which he is undoubtedly fulfilling at this very second." He shuddered. "I would not wish to be Chantavit Li right now."

"So there's a squadron of League military ships in TR-209," Tia said, clearly not wanting to talk about Li's fate. "Do you think we could beat them?”

"We've got a chance, especially with our remaining missiles," Henry answered. "But what's more important is getting the last piece of the puzzle we needed." He touched the control for the holovid. It came alive with an image of two people entering an office, already occupied. "I know most of you probably didn't see him."

"That's Caetano's aide, isn't it?" Jules asked.

"Former aide, yes," Miri said. "João Carvalho, now working for Prime Minister Vitorino."

"So was he there representing Vitorino?" asked Piper.

Henry responded by playing the recording. They listened to the exchange.

"You shouldn't be here," said the man in the most prominent uniform. "Information must be carefully compartmentalized."

Carvalho nodded. "I understand, Admiral, but I thought it best to discuss this with you personally. The Beja is being brought in for extensive reworking and repair. This gives us a window for the next nine months where the operation can be enacted with even greater ease. Without the fleet's battleship, it'll be even easier to create the image we need. Once we send the shutdown code—"

The admiral hissed, "Do not discuss the operation's particulars aloud!"

At that point, Henry paused the recording. He looked at everyone. "So, is everyone thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Shutdown code." Felix narrowed his eyes. "For the Lusitanian fleet?"

"How would that work anyway?" asked Brigitte. "Are we talking about knocking out their systems? Messing up computers?"

"Well, a lot of ships rely on computer systems," Pieter said. "For regulating the reactors and managing power flows. You need computers to manage constant deflector fields."

"Also for astrogation and thrust control," Henry added. "Some things can be done manually in a pinch, but if you take out a ship's information systems and networks, you've left them in a bad state. No deflectors, likely no guidance for weapons."

"You can also set a computer system to lock down a ship," Felix said. "It takes time to make workarounds."

"So the League's going to shut down the Lusitanian fleet. And what, attack them with the Q-ships?"

"Q-ships armed mostly with neutral and Coalition weapons," Henry pointed out. "It will be made to look like a Coalition-backed effort to overthrow the current Lusitanian government."

"But that's not what they would want as an ending to this." Miri looked at the still image on the display. "However, the scenario is increasingly obvious."

"Aye, I think I see what ye mean," said Cera.

For the sake of the others, Henry spoke up. "Here's how I think it's going to go down. The Q-ships arrive and declare some democracy uprising against Vitorino. The Lusitanian fleet mobilizes to stop them. Ordinarily, this would work, but suddenly, their computers quit, and the squadron is helpless against the Q-ships, who quickly finish crippling them with those EMP cannons since they won't have deflectors. It looks like the invasion will pay off when, boom, here comes the League of Sol to save the day. They shoot up some of the Q-ships, the rest surrender—"

Tia frowned and interjected, "—and it's quickly discovered that the Terran Coalition attempted to overthrow the lawful Lusitanian government. Neutral worlds across this region and others turn against the Coalition, with the League happily playing themselves up as the champions of the neutrals' freedoms. A number of planets, out of fear of the Coalition or support for the League, actively throw in with them."

"So the League gets new bases and reinforcements to launch attacks on us." Felix shook his head. "And it allows the League's fleets to hit Coalition-held sectors they couldn't easily reach before. Hell, those Q-ships would make for excellent commerce raiders."

"It also dramatically undermines the peace talks," al-Lahim said. "Assuming they're not a deception operation as well. My superiors won’t hear of such talk, but I suspect this is all part of a larger game."

"If they are, then it's a one-two punch." Henry frowned at the image. "One the Coalition might not come back from. At the same time, Vitorino gets to consolidate power and set himself up to become a leader of the neutral worlds. He lets the League weaken itself trying to break the Coalition and then assembles the neutral worlds to finish both off."

"Except… I don't think that's how it would go." Miri walked up beside the display and tapped at Carvalho's image. "I doubt he authorized this. Hartford was right to be upset Carvalho came personally; it was sloppy. And Vitorino doesn't strike me as the sloppy type."

"No, he's not," Henry agreed, still frowning. "But he's arrogant enough to miss the obvious."

"Carvalho's working for the League," Felix said.

Al-Lahim nodded at Felix. "It would fit their usual methods. They put people in place with their allies on other worlds, to keep watch."

"Well, either way, we can guess what they're doing. The question is how to stop them."

"We stop the Q-ships," Tia said. "They can't afford further losses, so they'll be cautious going to Lusitania. Single jumps. Even with the time we've lost, just one double jump should put us into a position to catch them."

"We'd have to catch them in Lusitania's system. It's the only place we know they're going."

Henry nodded at Felix. "At the same time, I'd rather not have to fight the League ships too. Even letting the Leaguers show up at Lusitania is too big a risk. We need to stop them. Or at least delay them."

"Well, from what the records say, they've got a squadron of sorts. A cruiser and four destroyers," said al-Lahim. "It would take all of the ships we have left to even hope to fight them. And that's assuming the privateers would do so."

"They wouldn't," Henry said. "The Tokarevs are the only ones I know will go for a fight. Dulaney may want to finish this, but some of his ships are hurting. He won't go against the military ships. The way it looks, it'll be just us."

"Which is suicide," Tia pointed out. "A destroyer would be a hard fight for us to survive. Four of them and a cruiser is way too much."

"Ordinarily, you'd be right," said Felix. "But we've still got sixteen Hunters. If we task them right, we can probably take out at least half that unit. Maybe even the cruiser itself."

"So… we'll go up against this squadron. Alone?" Samina's voice squeaked a little at that.

"Yeah, I think we're really pushing our luck now." Brigitte's voice betrayed her own fear. "Even if we take down the cruiser, we'll never defeat those destroyers."

Henry looked to her with sympathy, although his voice was firm in a way to try and get confidence from her. "We wouldn't need to. We task the Hunters to make them secondary targets. I'm betting we finish the cruiser off enough that at least six of them go for the destroyers. Just one would overwhelm deflectors on a destroyer and do some damage. It might be enough that they call off the op. Even if they don't… it'll make their scenario laughable. Twenty-plus Q-ships surrendering to a bunch of damaged League destroyers doesn't make a lick of sense. It'll be too transparent, even without the records and eyewitness testimony to confirm what we already know."

Henry surveyed the room. He could tell they weren't sure about this. It seemed foolish. And he couldn't dispute it would be tremendously dangerous.

But the League had to be stopped. Nothing about that changed. If they executed the attack, then even the eyewitnesses recovered from Pluto Base might not be enough to counter the League's propaganda on some worlds.

And even if the League's gains were dented by the witnesses, they'd still have Lusitania, one of the wealthiest neutral systems. That alone could turn the tide against the Coalition and the forces assembled here.

"Alright, everyone, we know what's up. I'm going to discuss this with the other captains. I trust you'll get everything in order."

Despite their apparent uncertainty, there were no protests. He was answered by nodding heads and pursed lips. The Shadow Wolf crew was in this together, to the end.

Breach of Faith

Oskar left the meeting and returned immediately to his infirmary. Because of its smaller size in the fleet, it wasn't being used for remaining casualties, so there was only one patient. Cristina Caetano was lying on one of the beds. Wound-care bandaging covered her injuries and nearby monitors showed an active heartbeat and normal brain activity. Her stable condition was, in fact, the only reason Oskar attended the meeting in the rec room.

"You seem concerned," Caetano said.

"We’re going to be in danger in a few days, but nothing immediate," Oskar said.

"Please tell me, then, what's going on?"

Oskar wasn't sure he should. Stressing his patient out unnecessarily was not good medicine. But he knew she'd not rest until an explanation was given. He sighed and went over what happened.

"João." Her voice was tense with fury. "He was playing us all. I should… I should have realized it. His ambition always seemed to be the usual kind I found in the party ranks."

"Which undoubtedly made it easier for him to hide," Oskar observed. He noted the fury in her expression turning toward what he suspected was despair. "We can still stop them."

"I should have known," she insisted. "I should’ve seen it." Tears formed in her eyes. She looked like she was about to break down completely. "I was trying to save my people from dictatorship, and here I am, forced to confront the fact that I may have doomed them to it. Even if we stop them, it won't be my doing."

"Won't it?" Oskar raised an eyebrow at her. "You got us off Lusitania. You helped form our fleet. On the station, you nearly died helping to get the information we needed." A thought came to Oskar. He nodded. "Ahh, I see."


"That was what you wanted," he said. "To die. You didn't expect to survive on the station."

"I didn't care if I did or not," she said. "Cristina Caetano must be dead. For the good of my people, my world."

"But you're not her. She was a creation."

"For her to remain dead, I can't go back home." Caetano closed her eyes. Tears still flowed from them. "I'll never be able to go home. If I did and people realized who I was—"

"There are cosmetic procedures—"

"They don't change DNA," Cristina pointed out.

"True." Oskar slid onto the nearest bed and sat there, looking over at his patient. "Even if you are right, and you must remain an exile like me, that's not the end of your world. I do miss my own home, and I would love to return one day to see it. But I can find home, purpose, out here as well. So can you."

She didn't respond. Oskar didn't expect her to. It was all still fresh for her. It would take her time. Just as it had him.

Breach of Faith

Henry met with Piotr Tokarev and Commodore Dulaney in the captured command center of the League base. The privateers were nearly done stripping the place clean. "This place is trashed enough that there's little point destroying it," Dulaney said. The look on his face made Henry think of Colonel Goldstein after a hard-fought battle with extensive casualties. Fatigue, grief, and relief were all visible on his expression.

Piotr said something, and Miri quickly offered a translation. "The Morozova and her ships will use energy weapons to cripple what's left of the base. No one will bother trying to use it again."

"If that's what they want to do. What I'm more interested in is what you've found out from their computers."

Henry and Miri filled them in. Piotr gave them a determined look and nodded, along with a stream of Russian. Miri was quick to translate the answer. "He'll continue with the fight. His squadron will jump for Lusitania immediately."

Dulaney seemed to be mulling it over. "At least ten of the captains still with us are done," he said. "Some of the others are still repairing from the EMP weapon."

"They'll have time to finish replacing their fuses on the trip to Lusitania," said Henry. "But we need to be leaving soon. They're already a jump ahead of us, and we'll need at least one double jump to get in position on time. Maybe two now."

He couldn't tell if he'd persuaded Dulaney or not. It would be a waste just to let things go. On the other hand, he could recognize the powerful sway of seeing the recovery of the lost crews, and the evidence against the League, as arguing against the necessity of another action. Henry had a small doubt himself about it. Seeing that more persuasion was necessary, he continued speaking. "Problem is the Coalition has a long history with the neutral worlds, and it hasn't always been pretty. The League will lie its ass off trying to discredit the witnesses and the evidence, and it'll confuse things. And if they take over Lusitania, they'll have Vitorino or Carvalho backing them, using Lusitania's economic and political influence to manipulate other worlds onto their side. For all of our sakes, we need to be sure we stopped them."

Dulaney's face twisted into a small smile. "Alright, Captain, your points are made. I'll commit my ships too and encourage the others. Hopefully, enough will decide to stick it out. The ones that don't, I'll send the witnesses back with. I'm sure I can talk enough of them into that."

"I'll leave you to it, then," Henry said.

Breach of Faith

Two hours later, the Shadow Wolf departed the wrecked League station called Pluto Base. Forty-one ships joined her, led by the Morozova and Mad Hatter. A second group burned away on a slightly different vector, bound for New Aragon to drop off the rescued crews and provide authorities the data from the League.

Behind them, Pluto Base shuddered as repeated weapons fire, all directed energy, blew through the base's structure. While the superstructure remained, it would be a derelict ruin, useful only as salvage for raw alloy.

Henry didn't care to see the station again. He wanted it over with. The League would already be after them for this. If they successfully gained inroads to Neutral Space by making their plan work, his ship and crew would be driven far from familiar spaces. As much as he talked about making for the Jewel Box if necessary, he'd rather not have to make the attempt..

"So out of one frying pan and into another?" asked Piper.

"Probably," Henry mused.

"Good cause, though." That came from Vidia, standing in the rear. "I hear that some o' the people that fought us, they were from the stolen ships. The League broke them in the station's Socialization camp, made them turn."

"They were held long enough to be broken." Like Vidia, Miri was present at the rear of the bridge. "I can believe that."

"I didn't want this fight; you all know that," Henry said. "But we've got it now, and I won't lie and say I don't consider the League a threat worth fighting."

Tia nodded quietly. "Yeah." Henry and the others saw the haunted look on her face. She'd seen the people from the stolen ships and she'd heard what they suffered. It had its effect on her. "I'm proud we got them out."

As they approached the Lawrence limit, Henry keyed the intercom to Engineering. "Pieter, we ready for that first double jump?"

"Everything's ready. We should be able to manage it without blowin' up anything. But we'll need the proper cooldown period afterward."

"We'll get it. Henry out." His inquiry satisfied, Henry leaned back in his chair. "Execute the double jump when ready, Cera."

"Aye, sir," came her answer.



Lusitania, Independent System, Neutral Space

30 August 2560

From his suite in the Royal Lusitanian, Duarte Vitorino waited. This was the day it would all come together, planned as it had been for many months via careful hand-written exchanges with Hartford through Li and various other couriers. His plans for the future depended on everything going off without a hitch.

He had reason to be nervous, even if those reasons played into the plan. His careful prodding of the various Democratic parties had worked. They'd put their remaining differences aside and were urging, jointly, for an end to martial law. Today, a significant protest was scheduled to move through the city, including the Rua de Republica itself. It was excellent timing for what he wanted to do.

Of course, it was also dangerous. If things tipped a little too far, and word had leaked he was here, then he might face an angry mob too large for his guards to disperse.

Vitorino dismissed the idea from his mind. That was only a minor worry. The truth was he was still concerned with what Captain Henry was doing. He believed it more likely the good captain was halfway to Omega by now, but there was always the chance he might have hewed to the side of his character that still believed in the values of the Coalition. The honorable part of him still exists, even if Henry tries to play the independent spacer interested only in money. He could see it whenever the instinctive shame showed in Henry's eyes. If Miri Gaon managed to link up with him… it would be a disaster.

No, not just Gaon. The real threat was that code he'd used to launch without difficulty. The one that came from Caetano. Her body was believed destroyed in the explosions, as had the corpses of many of the Cabinet, but Vitorino was starting to wonder. If she was alive, she could pose a grave threat to everything. But how could she have survived the bombing?

"Ah, I am getting paranoid," he said aloud, mostly to hear himself say it.

"Prime Minister, sir?"

Vitorino turned to see Carvalho looking at him with concern. "Nothing, nothing at all. I’m merely letting my worries fester." He checked his digital assistant for the time. "They should be here any minute. Do we have the feed to the system defense monitors?"

"We do." Carvalho picked up a control from the table in the middle of the room. A holo-projector built into the ceiling projected a flat image over the curtained windows. "You'll know when it's time."

"The signal?"

"Ready. As soon as the fleet is in range, it gets shut down."

"Hrm." Vitorino went over to his bar and retrieved a wine glass. He pulled out an opened bottle of Cunhal Port, the same port he often plied to customs agents and other officials he was paying off. With one application of his cork-remover, he opened the bottle and poured himself a glass. He sniffed at it to enjoy the aroma before taking a small drink of the sweet, fortified wine. "I wonder if their port tastes different?" he asked aloud.

"Sir?" Carvalho looked at him.

Vitorino tapped his finger on the bottle. "The port. It comes from our ancestral homeland on Earth, the lower reaches of the Douro River within what was northern Portugal. This wine comes from vineyards along the river in question. Since the river terminates at the city of Porto, or 'O Porto' as our ancestors called it, the wine was given the same name." He smiled at seeing Carvalho's uncaring expression. "Centuries ago, samples of the grapes used in the valley were brought to Lusitania with the colony ships. The middle reaches of the Cunhal Valley, over on the continent of Beja, emulate the microclimate of the Douro Valley. Not exactly, but enough that it was chosen as the site to attempt to recreate this wonderful dessert wine. Have you ever had any?"

"I don't believe so, sir. In my defense, drinking was frowned on in the PdDN."

"Ah. Yes, Miss Caetano could be rather spartan, couldn't she?" Vitorino took another drink. "I wonder, when this is over, if I might be permitted to send a trade mission to Earth itself to acquire Earth-made port. I'm told the League does allow certain luxuries of cultural significance to be produced, and certainly port counts. It would be fascinating to discover how the two are different."

Vitorino might have gone on, but he was stopped by sudden flashes on the display. Ships were arriving at the extent of the jump zone. Quite a few of them. He walked over to his chair and counted. He narrowed his eyes. "Almost half of the fleet is missing.”

"Still enough to make this work, Prime Minister," Carvalho assured him. "Look, an incoming audio transmission. I'll play it." He said those things with a slight grin. Both men already knew the substance.

"People of Lusitania, we of the Lusitanian Democratic Army have come to liberate you from the authoritarian corruption of the Estado Novo," proclaimed a male voice in fairly good Portuguese. "While we defeat their fleets, you can rise up against your oppressors! For God, freedom, and democracy!"

The signal cut. Vitorino blanched. "I believe that exhortation was rather unnecessary," he said.

"They need to sound like Coalition-backed militants, sir."

"I've spoken to Coalition diplomats and listened to their prattlings about democratic legitimacy, Carvalho. That's not how they sound."

"Respectfully, sir, militants wouldn't sound the same way."

Vitorino decided not to continue the argument there. Instead, he watched and listened, as the Lusitanian Navy sortied to stop the ragtag fleet. The disparity made the League operatives look foolish for pressing forward. Even without the old foreign-built dreadnought Beja, the Navy still had three cruisers, ten destroyers, and twenty frigates of varying size. There were also the system defense corvettes and cutters. Their technology wasn't up to the best of the Coalition or even League, but against such ragtag vessels, that wouldn't matter. It made the situation laughable. And that would reinforce the sentiment of internal treachery, one that would let Vitorino wield the powers of the State to purge potential rivals, especially any in the military.

"The fleet is forming up." Carvalho stated. The icons for the Lusitanian military vessels showed they were coming at the invasion force from multiple vectors. "For maximum effect, they'll link up before they engage the incoming fleet."

"Ah, good." Vitorino smiled. "Give the usual statements about resisting treason to the State, and order the RSS to begin arresting all known members of the democratic parties."

"Even Ascaro and al-Amin?"

Vitorino smiled at him. "Temporarily for my dear colleagues. To ensure they aren't involved in this unconscionable attempt to overthrow their own government."

Carvalho chuckled. That "temporarily" would quickly become permanent if they needed it to. "Of course." He tapped at the device to finish the order. "Message sent, sir."

"Then we have a few hours to relax in." Vitorino reclined in his chair. "Perhaps we should watch a holovid."

Breach of Faith

In the Hotel Duro, the day began with more dread and continued with the same. With each passing day, Ascaro found it harder to focus on her job. Given the position was overseeing the operations of four government ministries that helped observe and direct the Lusitanian economy, this was not a good thing. But it couldn't be helped. The information slipped to her by President Vargas' Chief of Staff, el-Kabir, incriminated Vitorino in the Assembly bombing, and shook her to the very core.

What was Vitorino's game? Ascaro was having trouble squaring what she knew of him—a corrupt man only interested in fine wine and expanding his business interests—with the kind of attitude and calculation necessary for such cold-blooded mass murder. This sounded more like something Caetano would've done.

What am I to do with this? she repeatedly asked herself. She couldn't give it to the police. Even if the street-level police were honest and not in his pocket, their bosses ultimately answered to Vitorino and the officials in the Home Ministry, a ministry Caetano had packed with her people. They'd undoubtedly reveal what she'd done, and since Vitorino controlled the armed branches of the government, she was helpless to oppose him.

Was she that helpless? While she had very little in the way of armed personnel—just the armed field agents of the Finance Ministry's Revenue Office, since they were considered law enforcement—she had the economic ministries. Those had a power of its own. Bankers, business owners, stockholders, labor organizers—she was expanding connections with all of them due to her position. Some of them were friends from before that, quiet donors or patrons of the democratic parties.

So she sent some quiet messages, ones the RSS couldn't find at all harmful, but if read the right way by those people, would at least prepare things for her. With time, she could gain the leverage she needed against Vitorino and undermine his control of the government's armed branches. She would bring him and any who conspired with him to justice.

And then, much to her horror, she ran out of time.

The message from the incoming fleet played over the holovid. With it, Ascaro could hear the death knell of what remained of Lusitanian democracy and everything she wanted to achieve. Even her first reaction was to wonder which foolish radicals had decided to precipitate things.

Only after careful consideration did she understand what was happening. It was all a cruel joke. Vitorino never intended to fairly share power or step down. This fleet, wherever it came from, was calculated to destroy her and the democratic parties.

With that understanding, Ascaro tried to think of how she might counter them. Whoever these people were, they were not going to defeat the Lusitanian fleet. It was one of the strongest single-system navies in Neutral Space. Its technology was leading edge for the independent worlds. And, most importantly, Vitorino would never allow them to win. Either they were working for him or they were tricked by him. They would lose in a way that best benefited him.

She attempted to call al-Amin and the other ministers. Domingues didn't answer. She turned to al-Amin and was about to open the line, when the door swung open. Four black-clad RSS agents stepped in, with Palmeiro behind them. "Paulina Ascaro, under the authority of the Prime Minister, you are under arrest," Palmeiro announced quietly.

Ascaro said nothing, and didn’t move, for there was nothing she could do. Vitorino's trap had slammed shut, and she was inside it.

Breach of Faith

Their double jump had the privateer fleet in a familiar place to Henry: TR-778. There was no worry of an ambush this time. Just what they were about to do.

Tokarev offered to join them, and Henry nearly accepted. But the privateers needed every gun to finish off the League Q-ships, and one or two more ships wouldn't change anything in TR-209. For better or worse, the crew of the Shadow Wolf was on their own.

Because of that, Henry had everyone in their best places: Tia, Piper, and Cera on the bridge, Felix, Vidia, Miri, and a partly-recovered Caetano on the quad-turrets, Oskar on standby to deal with wounded, Yanik and al-Lahim in the holds with the missiles, and Pieter with Samina and Brigitte to run engineering while handling repairs.

"They're already in Lusitania," Dulaney said to everyone over the comms. "Reports are sporadic, but they're claiming to be a democratic army, and Vitorino's arresting anyone affiliated with democrats."

"Just as we figured."

Piotr Tokarev spoke up. "We must go now, then. Spread truth before League ships arrive!"

"I'm giving the order now. Captain Henry, are you sure…"

"We didn't keep enough ships to fight their cruiser and its squadron," Henry pointed out. "And if we all show up, there's a bigger chance we'll spook them into jumping out."

"You have a point." It was clear Dulaney was worried about them. "Well, good luck, Captain. Or as they said in your old service, 'Godspeed'."

Henry smiled thinly. He didn't use the word anymore himself, but he didn't protest Dulaney's use of it. Maybe it made Dulaney feel better, at least.

As the privateer fleet jumped out, Henry turned his attention to Piper. "We have the coordinates loaded from Kepper's last transmission?"

"Yep," she said. "And they're past TR-209's limit too. I can't promise we'll jump in exactly where you want, Captain."

"Get me as close to seventy-five thousand kilometers as you can, Piper. Cera, Yanik, and al-Lahim will handle the rest."

"Right." As Piper finished the calculations to feed into the Lawrence drive, tension filled the bridge in a palpable way.

After all these days of dangerous battles, they were entering one that was, without a doubt, the most hazardous they'd faced. A squadron of League warships, led by a Rand-class cruiser, and all they had going for them was pluck, some skill, and an over-engined medium hauler. Don’t forget the sixteen super-advanced AI-piloted Hunter missiles, which will even the odds ever so slightly. They were what turned this from "definitely suicide" to "probable suicide." As the moments counted down, Henry reflected on having a better crew than he ever deserved.

"Course calculation complete," Piper said. "Sending course to the helm."

"Receivin'," said Cera.

Henry leaned forward. "Jump!"


A holovid and a late meal later, the four-hour mark was approaching. The Lusitanian fleet was in position to intercept the “invaders” and wipe them out if permitted. Which, of course, they wouldn't be. "Give it, oh, another ten minutes," said Vitorino. "We should make it look good. Let them get a few shots off."

"Sir, they'll cost us ships, may even kill some of the crew."

"So will the League squadron when it arrives," Vitorino pointed out. "They know their duty, don't they? We must make this look right."

Carvalho nodded. "You’re correct about that, sir." He checked a message. "RSS authorities have Ascaro and al-Amin in custody. They’re still rounding up known democrat subversives and..."

Lights began forming on the display. Vitorino's eyes narrowed. It can’t be the League ships. For one, they were going to jump further in-system, since military drives had smaller Lawrence limits. The timing’s not right.

And, as a final matter, there were forty of them, not five.

"We're getting scans now. Multiple types and variants of ships. It looks like a fleet of independent vessels, but we are getting a positive identification on several pirate ships." Carvalho was frowning. "Including the Morozova and Mad Hatter."

Before Vitorino could remark on the presence of the Tokarev brothers or "Mad Jack" Dulaney, the display showed an incoming transmission from the ships. Not just one, but many, and not only to the defense systems. "A system-wide communication, multiple bandwidths, civilian included, and local GalNet," Carvalho confirmed. His eyes widened. "Sir!"

"Put it on."

Vitorino watched the screen change to the sight of a man with a pale complexion. His eyes were distant and troubled, while he spoke Portuguese with a distinct Galician accent. "People of Lusitania, I am Captain Mauricio Dominguez of the Star of Coruna, your countryman. I come to warn you of treachery. The fleet that has arrived in your system includes my own beloved vessel, stolen from my crew and me by the League of Sol."

Vitorino scowled and stood. "Jam them!" he shouted.

"Order sent, sir." Carvalho's voice betrayed his disbelief at what they were hearing.

"—disabled our ship, as they have done to fifty other vessels in the recent year. Whoever they say they are, it is false. They are of the League, here to subjugate our world to their designs with the aid of traitors in the government. I have evidence they have sabotaged our Navy as part of this deception…"

"Why is it still reaching us?" Vitorino demanded. "Jam them!"

"We're jamming everything we can, but the broadcast includes quantum entanglement links," Carvalho said. "Those can't be stopped."

"But they're limited to…" Vitorino clenched his fists and his jaw. "Send everything we can to the broadcast stations. I'm declaring a planetwide communications blackout, starting now!"

"Yes, sir!"

"...evidence to you on sub-channels of this broadcast, logs, and testimonies that prove what I am saying. I implore you, my countrymen, save our world. Save yourselves from the fate the League will bring us. I can testify from experience, as my crew and I suffered horribly at the League's hands in their attempts to break us. Others suffered much longer…"

Breach of Faith

Ascaro was trapped in the back of a large hulking RSS transport. Her wrists and ankles were handcuffed to a chain of shackles attached to her seat. Nor was she alone. Al-Amin was across from her, a bruise on the olive complexion of her face where she'd been struck by one of the RSS agents on her bodyguard detail. Other surviving Assembly members from their parties—there weren't many—were with them, as were two armed RSS men.

Outside, the vehicle was moving through Gamavilla. Ascaro wondered why they hadn't been taken to the military brig, or the imposing National Prison. The RSS seemed content to have them ride around endlessly.

What made it worse was the utter silence with which they were treated. The RSS men said nothing to them, nothing at all. Not even words of hate or disgust. They might have been automatons for the way they behaved, and it gave them an inhuman cast that was frightening.

Are they going to arrest Martzel? What about my children; what about Xabier, Marta, and my baby girl Carmen?

It was for her children that she was the most frightened, and her worry for them occupied her mind entirely.

"Are they yours?" asked al-Amin.

The question pulled Ascaro out of her maternal worry. She glanced up at him. "What?"

"This 'Democratic Army.' Are they yours?"

"No." Ascaro shook her head.

"Silence!" one of the guards barked. "There will be no discussion between prisoners."

Ascaro stared at him. The expression on his face—he appeared like a rabid animal, snarling and spit coming out of the sides of his mouth—set something off within her. In that face, she could see all of the terrible things afflicting her people. The cult of nationality, the ideology of devotion to the state, and cruelty to supposed enemies; she despised it all.

Now it seemed as if they were going to win. Damn them all, the fascists were going to win and destroy everything good about Lusitania.

With a loud voice and the courage of hopeless despair, she called out, "I will not be silenced. I'm tired of being bullied by the RSS and its fascist filth!"

"Let the traitor rant," the other guard said. "She'll stop when the interrogators get to work."

"Is that what you think?" she shot back at him. "You don't think I haven't lived in terror of this day for years? That I'm not prepared to suffer for my world?"

Some of the others in the van started murmuring. She knew a number of them had the same fears and, like her, kept working for democracy anyway.

"I say we just knock this treacherous bitch's teeth out now," the first guard said. "A warning to the others."

"I won't be silenced!" Ascaro insisted. She'd taken the plunge, guaranteed she would suffer, and felt no reason to fear worse.

"Director Travada's orders were explicit," the second guard said. "Nobody lays a hand on them."

The entire transport came to a sudden stop that everyone felt. The first guard put a hand to his helmet. "Guard detachment here. What's going on? Why're we stopped?" After several seconds, the guard's expression darkened. "Something's wrong. There's no answer." He lifted his rifle toward Ascaro. She stared at him, wondering if she was about to die. "Orders are to kill before we let them get rescued, right?"

"Hold your damn trigger finger," said the second guard. "It could be a comm difficulty."

The first guard was apparently less convinced. After several tense seconds, he lowered the rifle.

The rear door opened. Four RSS agents were standing there. One of the guards seemed to recognize them. "Nico, what's—"

Bolts of energy fired from the pistols in the hands of these agents. Ascaro's first instinct was that they were about to be slaughtered, but the bolts only hit their guards. The two men never had a chance to return fire, the surprise was so total. Once they hit the floor of the transport, two of the figures stepped in and approached the fallen agents. Ascaro recognized Palmeiro just as she knelt and pulled an object from the second guard's belt. Palmeiro hit a key on the device.

As one, the shackles holding Ascaro's wrists and ankles opened, along with everyone else’s. "Senior Agent Palmeiro, what is going on?" Ascaro asked, stunned more than relieved.

"I'm here to free you," she replied. To the others, she added, "I am Senior Agent Camila Palmeiro of the Republic Security Service, and I am setting you free."

Al-Amin beat Ascaro to the question they both had. "Why?"

Instead of answering verbally, the woman pulled out a large government-issue commlink. With a press on its surface, she activated the holodisplay, showing a pale-faced man speaking Lusitanian Portuguese in a hoarse voice. "—again, I am Captain Mauricio Dominguez of the Star of Coruna, and I am Lusitanian. The League of Sol is behind these ships. Traitors in the Lusitanian government have sided with them against their own people and plotted to seize control of our world. Whatever the government is telling you is being twisted by these traitors. The evidence on our subchannel will prove—"

Everyone was watching at that point. With a tap, Palmeiro activated the subchannel. It showed camera footage of ships being fitted with weapons. In several of the shots, people with League uniforms were seen.

Ascaro stared at it in stunned amazement. Vitorino supported trade with the League, but she couldn't believe he'd go this far. Yet the evidence is undeniable.

"Minister Ascaro." Palmeiro glanced at her. "I found the data chip in your room. I don't know where you got it from, but when I saw it… " She shook her head. "Now this? Well, I couldn't let it go on. Above all, I am a patriot."

"You're defying the RSS?" Ascaro asked, her tone incredulous. Palmeiro might have been well-spoken before, but she was clearly an Estado Novo advocate. Now she was defying her own agency?

"I'm defying Vitorino, who's a traitor, or suborned by traitors," Palmeiro said. "Whatever your politics are, it's always been clear you're not a traitor. So you have my support. We just pulled up to the east entrance of the National University campus. Word is there's a growing gathering here to protest your arrest. You'll be safe."

"Vitorino will send troops," al-Amin said.

"He may try, but I doubt he'll keep their loyalty much longer."

Still surprised she wasn't dead, Ascaro stood. Her legs quivered under her, as if the weight of the situation might force her to her knees. But she willed them to hold. "I need to get in touch with the President."

"Yes, so we can see where he stands," Palmeiro said. "Until then, we'll protect you."

Breach of Faith

Vitorino sat down and forced himself to calm down. "Time to the engagement?"

"They're entering weapons range shortly. We should initiate the shutdown."

Already Vitorino's mind was racing. How do I fix this? Even now, this recording would be spreading across the planet like wildfire. Assuming he found a way to spin it, to attack the source… how many would believe him, even in his own party? How many of his enemies would turn this against him if the rest of the plan went forward, even if the League warships wiped these pirates out and stopped the message?

Beyond those considerations, they had Dominguez. That meant they had others. They'd taken Pluto Base. If that didn't prove Vitorino's role, it would show the League's responsibility. If they'd taken survivors to other worlds, with all of this evidence, nobody would believe him. The neutral worlds wouldn't see him as surviving a dastardly Coalition-backed coup using stolen ships, they'd see him as a League dupe or agent. His legitimacy in the neutral worlds would be fatally compromised. The calculations made the necessary course clear. "Prepare to initiate the shutdown on a third of the fleet.”

Carvalho turned and stared, open-mouthed. "Sir?"

"You heard me. A third. We can sell that. The rest will be enough to destroy or drive off the League military ships when they arrive."

Carvalho blinked furiously, his mouth still agape. "But it would ruin the plan! The League won't forgive this. They'll attack our world!"

"And then they would face the neutral worlds joining the Coalition. The collapse of what influence they might manage to save otherwise by disavowing Hartford and the other officers." Vitorino shook his head. "No, this is the only way. We play along with this. Perfidious traitors were working for rogue League officers. It will give them a dignified means to avoid—"

Vitorino looked just in time to see Carvalho swing the gun up. He was too stunned to move until instinct forced him. But it was too late. A violet light seared across the left side of Vitorino's torso until it scorched the chair he'd just jumped from. Pain filled his body. He clutched at his chest, as if he could heal the wound the weapon inflicted on his heart. His eyes widened as he glanced up at Carvalho's enraged expression and the very vicious, curved xaser pistol in his hand. "Carvalho…?" His voice was weak and distant.

"You spineless coward," Carvalho spat. "I won't let you betray the League. I won't let you destroy everything I've worked for!"

"What?" A realization came to him. "You… you work with…"

"Yes. I am a soldier of Society. I have been for years. Waiting for the chance to undo our ancestors' crime against us."


"Leaving Earth," Carvalho yelled ferociously. "They should’ve stayed and been part of the new world, not clinging to old lives and attitudes! Look what their cowardice got us. We're just another corrupt, dirty planet filled with the selfish, arrogant, and cruel! People like you and Caetano were the best we could manage? Of course I went to the League. They offer us a new beginning. A chance for everyone to know true unity and equality!"

Vitorino tried to speak but couldn't. The pain in his chest was too great. Deep down, he knew he was dying, even if his mind rebelled at it.

He didn't get the chance. Carvalho pointed the pistol and fired again. The violet beam sliced cleanly through Vitorino's forehead. Powerful, concentrated x-rays burnt a line through his brain.

For Vitorino, that violet flash was the last light he saw. He didn't see Carvalho return to his digital pad and press the activation key.

Carvalho brought up the fleet's commlink and listened, with satisfaction, as system command tried desperately to restore contact with the crippled Lusitanian fleet. Using the same systems, he brought up a magnified visual from a nearby observation buoy, showing the League Q-ships blast away at the stricken Lusitanians with their EM weapons. One by one, the Lusitanian fleet shut down.

He smiled at that. The pirates could broadcast all they wanted. Vitorino was dead, but nobody knew it. He would, of course, later reveal the horrific crime to the people, of Coalition-backed militants murdering Prime Minister Vitorino as part of their coup attempt, but until then, the security apparatus thought his orders were from Vitorino. Once he was finished, nobody on the planet would be in a position to stop him from assuming power. In time, he would even get to sign the treaty to join the League, but for now, he would play the game Vitorino laid out, the aggrieved leader of an attacked world rallying his neighbors against the treacherous zealots in the Terran Coalition.

The plan was nearly complete. All that remained was for Captain Zervakos' ships to arrive.


An old and familiar tension gripped the command deck crew of the LS Marat. Captain Zervakos knew and welcomed it. It would keep his officers alert and ready for the unexpected while they watched the star labeled TR-209 shine in the distance.

The operational clock displayed on the command center's main holodisplay was approaching the zero hour. Then they would effect a jump to Lusitania. If all went according to plan, they'd arrive to see a disabled Lusitanian fleet and a victorious force of their own crewed Q-ships. Then would come the grim task of opening fire on their comrades. Some would have to die to sell the ruse, but of course, what were those handfuls of lives compared to the many millions to be saved with the Coalition defeated? The end to the war and the redemption of the many billions, trillions of human beings held chained to the backward superstitions and the selfish capitalism of the Coalition's elite? Their brothers and sisters in arms would die happily, knowing their sacrifice was for the greater good of Society.

It was all the reassurance they'd have, so they clung to it, Zervakos in particular.

"All jump preparations complete," noted his executive officer, Commander Sterns.

"We'll jump at zero hour and not a second sooner," said Zervakos.

"Even with the last reports from Pluto Base?"

"Yes. The operation will be ruined if we arrive too early. I’m quite confident we can make short work of any privateers that try to interfere. They have nothing that can withstand the Marat's plasma batteries."

Sterns nodded in agreement and pursed his lips. "I look forward to going home," he said. "I haven't seen Mars in fifteen years."

"Ah. Twenty years for me," Zervakos noted. It wasn't often the League rotated personnel home to Orion. It was a privilege reserved for those deserving of a reward for great feats on behalf of society or to train officers and crew destined for Sagittarius. "I've given thought to settling on New Hope."

"Truly, sir?" Sterns envisioned the luscious garden world at the edge of the Sagittarius Arm closest to the Orion Spur. The first League colony in the Arm, considered a paradise. Crews longed to win the right to take leave there. The farmlands were fertile, the vistas grand. The cities were urban gardens. It was the model the League was building in this Arm, to demonstrate to its residents the superiority of society over both the rapacious capitalism or the broken, inefficient pre-society socialism practiced by the worlds of the exiles. "You'd rather not go back to Sol?"

Zervakos shrugged. "I can do more good here in Sagittarius, I think, and my family has relocated to this Arm anyway. Why not stay?"

The display timer flashed to ten minutes. The tension in the command center increased with every second. A desire permeated everyone to get it over with, to make the jump, and bring all of their work to fruition.

"Call the ship to general quarters at five minutes, Commander," Zervakos ordered.

"Aye, sir." That was cutting it close, but Sterns thought he saw the logic. The crew knew something was going to happen soon, but there was no point in stretching it out for them as well. Let them remain at standby stations until…

"Sir, we just picked up a wormhole opening. Ship jumping in."

"Distance?" Zervakos asked.

"A hundred and fifty thousand kilometers."

That was too close. They'd make identification before the ships jumped. If they reported seeing the squadron here, waiting, it would undermine the intended results of the entire operation. "Send the Peltast and the Hussar to intercept and destroy."

Sterns heard the order confirmed, and frowned.

Breach of Faith

The Shadow Wolf emerged from the wormhole ready for action. The moment the particle interference died down from the sensors, Piper was quick to identify the enemy squadron. The data Kepper sent from Li's ship was spot-on: the Leaguers were just a hundred and fifty thousand kilometers away. "Two of their destroyers are breaking away, burning toward us."

"Burn their way." Henry swallowed and tried to settle his gut. Everything was on the line here. "Cera, hit the fusion drives and prepare for evasive maneuvers."

"Aye, sir!" came Cera's enthusiastic reply.

The Shadow Wolf's fusion drive core came to life, and she shot forward. As her thrust increased, the G-forces on the crew did as well. "If we're going to keep doing this," Tia began, teeth clenched, "we need to install new inertial compensators!"

It was a sentiment Henry agreed with, but he was too focused on the holotank and the recorded distance. He wanted to drop the missiles at seventy-five thousand kilometers from that Rand-class cruiser. It was the sweet spot: far enough away to give the missiles time to get their accelerations up, but not so far away to provide point-defenses more time to get lucky. It would also ensure impact on the cruiser in twenty seconds, maybe less.

The downside was that burning toward the enemy meant those League destroyers were getting closer and quickly entering weapons range. A tone came from Piper's station. "Enemy missiles launching!"

"Engage the auto-turrets; keep on course!"

The Shadow Wolf plunged ahead toward missiles that might alone defeat her if enough of them impacted on her deflectors. Cera used the lateral maneuvering drives to strafe the ship side-by-side, complicating the incoming missiles' job and opening them up to be shot down. As the range closed, the auto-turrets on the Shadow Wolf tracked and opened fire. Streams of magnetically-propelled metal projectiles filled the area in front of the turrets. The missiles weren't as effective as Hunters, although they did have some anti-point defense evasion capability. They maneuvered hard to avoid the fire, but one by one, they still succumbed. Those that weren't claimed immediately missed, thanks to Cera's maneuvering, often sliding within a kilometer of the Shadow Wolf's deflector screen. They started coming about to re-engage, if they survived the auto-turrets or the quad-turret gunners firing into their path.

The Shadow Wolf hit the hundred-thousand-kilometer mark from its target and came under fire from the enemy destroyers' plasma cannons. This exceedingly complicated Cera's job, but she met the difficulty with the aplomb Henry was accustomed to seeing from her. Piper activated the Shadow Wolf's twin plasma cannons, which came out from their spaces at the "shoulders" of the hauler's forward upper deck to track on the destroyers. Purple bolts of energy erupted, the coloring from the specialized Karnon gas used in the Tal'mayan model weapons, streaking across space to either miss the enemy destroyers or impact on their deflectors. These hits had no direct effect and wouldn't unless they had a lot of time. Time the ship didn't have.

Breach of Faith

Zervakos watched the hauler captain burn toward his ship. He recognized the profile from the earlier reports from the Galway Clipper and the Peltast: it was the Shadow Wolf. Its captain was, according to the dossier, a disgraced Coalition officer. Zervakos was not surprised by it; while it would be frowned upon if he admitted it openly, he had absolute respect for the CDF. Whatever religious zealotry drove them, they always seemed to prove capable foes. Once that capability was brought over to the side of society, he felt many of them would serve the League with distinction.

He was therefore sure the Shadow Wolf's captain was not attempting some bizarre suicide run. "Task a third destroyer to the attack, bring engines to full burn, and have all point defense systems on standby," he ordered Sterns. "Also, continue jump preparations."

"Of course, sir. But what if we don't cripple them before we jump?"

"We'll leave a destroyer behind if necessary. Even one should be enough to run them down." Zervakos eyed the clock. Six minutes to go before they jumped.

Breach of Faith

Henry watched them reach the eighty-five-thousand-kilometer range. Just ten thousand more, and they'd be at the perfect spot. I could release earlier, but we're only getting one shot at this.

The ship shuddered. Deflector feedback from a direct hit. "Dorsal deflector arc still intact but weakening," said Tia. More plasma fire filled the void around them.

"Another enemy destroyer is on an intercept course."

"As good as I am, I don't think I can evade three of 'em at the same time, Capt’," Cera warned, her hands still busy with the Shadow Wolf's helm controls. Their course wasn't nearly as stable now as she had to maneuver in all three planes to evade the plasma cannon fire and renewed missile attacks.

Henry checked the distance. Eighty thousand. He swallowed and felt the G-forces that threatened to choke him in the attempt. His entire body ached from the force pinning him to his seat. He knew the rest of the crew felt the same way. Every minute they operated under this intense thrust, the more it wore everyone out.

But it had to be done right. There was no room for error, no room for chance. Indeed, never in his days in the CDF had Henry ever faced stakes this high and demanding.

Cera was doing her best, but the ship continued to shudder here and there as it took hits. The deflector indicators on Tia's displays showed the arcs all turning yellow. A few were already orange. Once they hit red, the Shadow Wolf was in serious trouble.

The range continued to close rapidly. The enemy cruiser was burning away from them, but the Shadow Wolf had built up too much speed and thrust for their quarry to keep the distance open. As the seconds passed, the distance counter read shorter and shorter. Sweat in his eyes blurred Henry's vision of those numbers slightly, but not so much he couldn't see when they hit the number he needed. "Are the missiles tasked?" he asked, double-checking to reassure himself.

"I fed them the targeting data already," Piper said, while she was busy firing her plasma cannons into the intact shields of one of the enemy destroyers. It evaded well, making the most of her shots miss. "Cruiser is the priority target, destroyers secondary."

"Good." He saw the display and the number "77000" roll by, shrinking ever faster. His finger hit the intercom key. "Yanik, al-Lahim, stand by."

"We're ready," al-Lahim answered.

"Confirmed," added al-Lahim.

"Get ready," The number was swiftly approaching "76000."

Breach of Faith

On the Marat bridge, the jump countdown was below three minutes. But all attention was diverted to the small cargo ship still weaving its way around missiles and plasma fire. Zervakos took the threat seriously. But not so seriously that he would jump early.

"We could double-jump," Sterns proposed. "Get clear of the system without arriving at Lusitania too early."

Zervakos shook his head. "Double jumps carry risk. I can't justify it at this time." Maybe he’s right. It wouldn’t hurt to be prepared. "Astrogation, plot a secondary destination with a second jump to Lusitania."

"Plotting now."

"Enemy ship now at seventy-five thousand kilometers," another officer said. "They're entering effective missile range."

There were enough missiles flying around already, but Zervakos decided it would do no harm to add a few more. "Fire a salvo."

Breach of Faith

"Enemy cruiser launching missiles," said Piper, her voice close to breaking.

Henry didn't allow fear into his mind. The magic number hit. They were at seventy-five thousand kilometers from the Rand. He re-keyed the intercom. "Drop the Hunters now!"

The middle holds of the Shadow Wolf opened. From each side, eight missiles were blown out into space by decompression, representing the last of the remaining weapons al-Lahim gave them. A second after they were clear, their drives lit off, glowing white-hot as the short-lived fusion drives within sent the missiles flying at accelerations no inertial compensator could protect from. The missiles streaked forward toward their target.

"Cera, maneuver freely!" Henry shouted.

"Aye, sir!" She immediately obliged him. The Shadow Wolf's bow turned away from the distant League cruiser, changing her vector and further complicating the efforts of her attackers' gunnery officers.

The Hunters they'd dropped into space flew on.

Breach of Faith

The holotank tactical display beside Zervakos' station lit up with new contacts around the Shadow Wolf. They'd dropped missiles. "Ships like that don't have missile launchers," Sterns observed. "Most worlds don't let them."

"Dropped from their cargo holds and remotely triggered. Clever." Zervakos watched the approaching contacts and checked the jump timer. They were going to hit before the Marat could jump. But we can take a few missiles. Point-defense will claim the rest. "Focus all point-defense fire."

"Aye, sir."

Zervakos mostly returned his attention to the jump timer. But he kept enough of an eye on the display to see that the point-defenses were not taking any of the incoming missiles out. Seeing the missiles maneuver around the point-defense fire, the way they anticipated it and altered their trajectories, brought back memories from earlier fights with the Coalition. Much to his shock, he saw these weren't some cheap anti-ship missiles he'd expected independent spacers to have. "Coalition Hunters," he gasped in surprise.

"It's not possible…" Sterns said, his tone betraying shock. "Sixteen of them. If they track us—"

Zervakos shouted, "Astrogation, commence jump to secondary destination, prepare for immediate jump to primary!" They had no choice and were rapidly running out of time.

"Aye, sir!"

Energy surged through the Marat's systems, channeling into its Lawrence drive. With a burst of power, the ship created a wormhole in space. The vessel accelerated toward it.

Behind it, the destroyer still with them threw itself in the way of the missiles, as its close-range point-defense weapons blazed away. The Hunters' AI systems rapidly calculated new courses around the enemy. One missile, caught between streams of fire, came apart. The AIs of two others calculated they would be destroyed before they could strike their primary target and switched targets—to the vessel targeting them. They hit within five seconds of each other; one smashed down the destroyer's shields with enough bleed-through to inflict damage, and the second struck the almost directly amidships. Its powerful warhead exploded on impact. The resulting release of energy gutted the enemy vessel, incinerating or outright vaporizing hundreds of its crew.

Thirteen missiles maneuvered around the devastated wreck and on toward the cruiser approaching the nearly formed wormhole. Zervakos mourned for his slain colleagues and vowed they would be remembered for their sacrifices. But his primary worry was his ship. "Increase acceleration and get us through!" he ordered.

His helmsman obeyed. The Marat's speed increased until her bow entered the multi-colored wormhole.

Zervakos breathed a sigh of relief as the familiar sensation of a jump filled him. He'd done it. He'd gotten his ship clear. Now they just had to—

Breach of Faith

Henry's heart sank as the League cruiser’s bow slid into the wormhole. In that one moment, it felt like everything was for nothing. They'd failed, he'd failed, the League had won.

The rest of him quickly smacked sense into his heart just as the first missile slammed into the aft section of the Rand-class vessel.

Soon the other Hunters impacted as well. The cruiser's deflectors quickly went down from the salvo's effectiveness, and the following hits blew flame and debris from the ship's stern sections. The rear drives of the ship died, robbing it of acceleration that might’ve carried it through before more missiles struck home.

Instead, many of the warheads hit in such quick proximity, the Rand never got a chance to finish going through the wormhole. A blinding flash engulfed the rear of the ship, and the wormhole it had nearly finished traversing fell apart.

It was rare one saw a wormhole collapse like that. It was a sight to remember as energy flared from the destabilized periphery of the portal. It snapped inward like a door slamming shut. Two missiles flew through the debris field and started coming around, acquiring secondary targets.

Cera was too busy evading fire, but Piper and Tia watched it happen with Henry. "Holy crap, what just happened?" Piper asked. "I've never seen a wormhole do that before."

"We blew their main cores and destabilized their drive. That messed up the wormhole generator. It closed before they'd fully transitioned." Henry shook his head, the simple action a labor due to the 2.5 Gs they were pulling at the moment. "Even if they made it through successfully, they won't be in any shape to fight."

The ship rocked again. At least two of the shield arcs showing on Tia's display were now orange. "So job's done, right?" she asked. "Let's get out of here."

"Right. Cera, get us a clear vector and jump for Lusitania."


Under Cera's control, the Shadow Wolf maneuvered in ways its designers never imagined their ships would one day move. They would’ve had nightmares about it, in fact, given the strain put on the frame to make such maneuvers. But all was necessary as three League Lancer-class destroyers were making it their mission to stamp the Shadow Wolf out of existence—and despite her best efforts, they were still landing hits.

There was return fire, of course. The auto-turrets were shooting down missiles as they came in, as were the crew manning the quad turrets. Whenever she had a clear shot, Piper let them have it with the plasma cannons. There was no clear shot with the neutron cannon yet, and odds were against getting one.

Henry watched the three destroyers like a hawk. Whoever was in charge now, they were taking this seriously. With every second, they were moving into positions to keep the Shadow Wolf under the gun no matter what direction it took. Time was running out to escape.

"Cera, burn us toward that refueling station!" Henry shouted.

"Yes, sir!"

Tia asked the obvious question. "What are you doing? If we burn in-system, we can't jump!"

"We can't jump in this situation anyway," Henry pointed out. "We need some breathing room."

As he spoke, Henry watched the remaining two Hunters tracking back. The point defense of their foes roared away, trying to catch them. Thankfully, League destroyers lacked the number of PD mounts needed to engage Hunters by themselves. There were too many vectors the onboard AIs could pick to get around the defensive fire.

The two missiles decided to engage the nearest destroyer in tandem, their onboard AIs networking, and calculating it was the most likely means to take out an enemy ship. The League destroyer immediately implemented evasive maneuvers every bit as daring as Cera's, but with a vessel built for such. Henry grudgingly acknowledged the skill of the pilot as they struggled to keep away from the Hunters' unrelenting pursuit. Two hits would certainly take them out.

Unfortunately, the Hunters' chosen target was still firing where they could at the Shadow Wolf, as were their two compatriots. Henry's new direction was at least opening some distance between them, making Cera's job easier. But the military drives on the League ships gave them impressive acceleration, enough that the range was not growing sufficiently.

Not nearly enough, in fact, as some shots still struck them. "Aft deflectors are critical," Tia said.

"I'm doin' what I can!"

Henry was already confident it wouldn't be enough. Cera was good, but the Leaguers only had to get one shot in.

A missile struck home on the deflectors toward the rear and detonated. The blast did more than eliminate the deflectors, as its energies radiated through the ship. Hull plates buckled and broke. On Tia's screen, an entire rear patch of the Shadow Wolf turned red. "Major hull breach, Sections G and H, upper deck. I'm showing systems damage!"

Cera's news was worse. "Captain, I'm gettin' a fault from th' jump drive. No jump possible!" After a moment, she added, "Fusion drives have lost fifteen percent power! We're losin' thrust!"

In the kind of battle they were in, thrust was life. It was their only margin of superiority over warships capable of wrecking the Shadow Wolf with ease. The margin was disappearing rapidly.

To make matters worse, the Hunter missiles disappeared from the holotank, one after the other. Their drives shut down, out of fuel. They could do nothing but coast along through space until internal timers self-detonated their warheads to prevent hostile recovery. The third destroyer that had so desperately evaded them came back around and returned its full attention to the Shadow Wolf.

"Wormholes!" Piper cried, even as the ship shook around them, another hit slicing away hull material and exposing part of the lower deck to space. "We've got ships jumping in!"

Henry dared his luck with the thought, Things can't get any worse. They might be friendly.

"Captain…" Piper's voice made it clear it wasn't good news. "It's the Tash'vakal."


Seated on the command platform of the Vanarak, Chief Lamat of the Mek'taman was in a mood. Her Ship-Lords were still sore over their failed effort on behalf of the League operative, seeing the escape of the human ship as an insult to the Clan's honor. Jastavi was particularly truculent as the Pahknabi remained hobbled by her battle damage from the encounter. His ship's wounds from such a small, insignificant vessel was a disgrace that guaranteed an end to his efforts to become her successor. The fact that he’d been the loudest voice in favor of the attack made his rage all the more palpable. The criticism from his rivals on the same count fueled it even more.

The damage to the Pahknabi also forced the Clan to travel together until such a time as the ship's repairs were complete. This complicated their logistics, as they could no longer range wider to find more prey or acquire other resources. They had to move as a unit, tied to the slowest ship and the needs of all. So if just one ship needed a refueling, all did.

Hence their jump to the system human charts designated TR-209. The abandoned helium-3 mining station was a popular source of the fuel for them, given humans never saw reason to jump into the system. It would also be a nice, empty system to finish the Pahknabi's repairs.

So it wasn't a surprise that the presence of four human ships, and the ruins of one or two more, cut deeply in her foul mood. That her sensor chief noticed that one of those ships was the accursed human who'd escaped them rubbed raw the injury.

Soon the other ships were calling. "My Chief, what shall we do about the interlopers?" asked one voice.

"The human who struck at my ship is here!" Jastavi's voice wailed in rage over the line. "Let us pounce upon him! I demand honor-rite to his meat!"

Lamat considered that. Jastavi was within his rights to demand such, and it would ease his disgrace. It was one of the reasons she shouldn't, in fact, given the restoration of some honor might kindle his ambitions anew.

On the other hand, it would be wrong, a violation of her responsibilities, to deny a rightful honor-rite to one of her Ship-Lords.

"For the moment, Ship-Lord Jastavi, your vessel should see to its needs. Ship-Lords Ravatan and Sravati will see to your defense. All others, attend to me! This is our system, our refueling place, and all within it belongs to us! Take them all! Victory for the Clan!"

"Victory for the Clan!" the other Ship-Lords roared over their tactical-link.

Breach of Faith

Pieter Hartzog had a lot of problems on his mind. Two of them were the most critical: the weakening fusion core and the Lawrence drive being inoperable. Both were repairs that would take time and needed careful repair, which ruled out Brigitte.

Which was why he was so pleased to have Samina still available.

After double-checking the seals on his hardsuit, he turned to her. "Get to the fusion drive and see what you can do," he insisted. "'I'll deal with the jump drive!"

Samina nodded. She was pale and afraid, but she was showing a vital trait for being a spacer engineer: the ability to think and work through fear. She finished getting into her hardsuit and headed for the lower deck exit from the engineering section.

"Monitor the other systems," he said to Brigitte. "I've shown you how the tolerances on the fusion cores work. Keep them together."

"Will do, Pete.”

The hardsuits were bulkier and more awkward than softsuits, but they had advantages. Greater resilience against radiation was one. The other was that they helped cushion from high-Gs, were in fact built to assist in movement in high-G conditions. Even though it felt bulky and ungraceful on him, the hardsuit allowed its wearer to walk against the G forces that wanted to throw him into the stern of the ship.

With careful steps, he approached the jump drive and began a check of all of its components. The self-diagnostic systems tied into the HUD of his suit displayed the results.

It was repairable, but it would take time. Given the way the ship was shaking, Pieter wasn't sure he had it.

Breach of Faith

The holotank showed the bad news in its entirety. Sixteen vessels were now in-system. Three stood off—understandable, considering one was the ship the Shadow Wolf's neutron cannon had done a number to nearly three weeks ago—and thirteen now burned hard for the Shadow Wolf.

This is hopeless. Henry couldn't keep the thought from coming to mind. Three destroyers were already a fight he'd lose unless they could jump—which they couldn't—and now there was a fleet, undoubtedly here for his hide.

The color drained from the faces of Tia and Piper, and it wasn't just from the G-forces that were still pressing on them while Cera tried desperately to evade the incoming fire. "We're dead," Tia said in a low, despairing voice.

"They really want us dead that much?" Piper asked rhetorically. "They brought in the Tash'vakal too?"

A thought cut through Henry's hopeless fear. The thoughtful part of his mind forced his attention to that idea. What were the Tash'vakal doing here? Had the League called them in? The more he thought about it, the more he knew it didn't make sense. The League didn't want any witnesses to this. Witnesses could undermine their plan.

One thought quickly led to another. TR-209 had an old abandoned helium-3 extraction and refueling facility. One with some good work and care, could easily be re-configured for use by space-based nomads like the Tash'vakal.

Henry made an educated guess: The Tash'vakal weren't here working for the League. They were here to refuel. Given how territorial they could be over "clan" holdings, they'd be no happier at the League than they were at him.

"Tia, raise the lead Tash'vakal ship, now."

"What good will that do?"

"I don't know, but I’ve got to try something."

Tia sent the signal. Moments later, an answer came. "Putting them on."

Henry directed his attention to the display-surface of the bridge. The black-eyed reptilian leader of the Tash'vakal clan appeared. "Human Captain, we meet again," she said, her voice a contemptuous hiss. "You have insulted our space, and for that, I will have your bones."

Henry forced his voice into a deferential tone. "My deepest apologies, Chief Lamat. I was unaware this system was held by your Clan. I only came to deal with the League of Sol's ships here."

The Tash'vakal's eyes turned calculating. "You are saying they did not pursue you here? You pursued them? You, in that pathetic ship, pursued the Outsiders?"

"We acquired advanced missiles from a source with links to the Terran Coalition," Henry explained. The ship shuddered around them again. Tia didn't bother telling him their status and, given the situation, he didn't ask. "But we used them all to defeat their cruiser. You may find some of the debris from it still in-system. It came apart inside a wormhole."

Lamat still looked skeptical, yet kept that same look of calculation. She glanced off-screen for a moment, undoubtedly to a subordinate who was verifying his statement. Henry doubted their sensors would fail to find the pieces from the dead Rand, not to mention the disabled Lancer, and some of the telltale particle traces from the collapsed wormhole. "So, the League invaded our system first."


Lamat didn't ask why, and Henry didn't expect it. Truth was she didn't care. "What is it you want, human? You have still violated our territory and will pay for that."

"Accidentally, it was never my intention to demean or provoke the Clan Mek'taman, Chief," Henry assured her. "We've been given ample proof of your Clan's abilities as spacers, and your abilities in a fight. I care for my crew too much to risk your wrath."

"You seek to flatter us."

"No, I'm telling the simple truth. Your people nearly got us. And since you're talking about paying prices…" Henry swallowed. "I'll pay a toll to you. I have some funds. And the location of a wrecked League space station you might find some metal salvage from."

Lamat seemed to consider the matter. "We have no use for your electronic or paper money. Salvage is better."

"Then I'll give you the location. All I ask is that you let us withdraw as soon as we can jump."

The ship shook again, violently, and Henry thought he could hear the scream of metal tearing. It was a sharp reminder that their acceleration was going to kill them, should the ship be damaged enough. But right now, he couldn't deal with it. He had to wait for Lamat's answer.

"You will give us the location," she said. "In the space of thirty standard cycles, you will deliver to my Clan the tonnage of your ship in hull-grade alloys and human meats. Swear to do these things, and I will allow you to withdraw, human."

Henry swallowed. The tonnage of the Shadow Wolf in hull alloys was going to wipe them out. As for human meats… "You're not suggesting I give you people to eat, are you?"

"I am well aware of your taboos on eating the flesh of intelligent life, human. I refer to the meats your people ingest. We are particularly interested in your 'bakhon'."

"Ah. Alright." Knowing he had little choice, Henry nodded. "I'll arrange the delivery wherever you wish. And we're sending the coordinates to that station now." He nodded to Tia. She was busy staring at the orange and red indicators for the Shadow Wolf's failing shields, but after a moment, she started tapping her board, calling up astrogation data, and sending it on through a sub-channel.

"We will be at the Torpan Transfer Station in thirty cycles," she informed him. "Be there with the tribute, or we will make a feast of you and all aboard your pathetic ship."

"Of course."

Lamat said nothing further. She disappeared from the viewer.

"If we survive the League ships, you just bankrupted us, I think," Piper said.

"Yeah," Henry replied. "But we'll figure something out." We'll have to. That’s a job for tomorrow. Any further thought was precluded by another severe rocking of the ship. This time, there was a loud roar of atmosphere nearby, followed shortly by the thunk of an emergency bulkhead sliding into place.

"Major breach, Section B," Tia said.

"One of the plasma cannons isn't responding," Piper added.

"There's just too much fire!" Cera protested. "I can't dodge it all!"

"Cera, break toward the limit," Henry said. "Get us out from between the Tash'vakal and the League."

Tia sounded skeptical when she asked, "You think she's going to let us go?"

"I have to plan that she will; otherwise, we're up the creek without a paddle," was Henry's reply. He keyed the intercom. "Someone tell me the fusion drive's going to be back to full power soon."

Breach of Faith

Henry's request came through shortly after Samina made it to the afflicted hardware. She had to kneel to get at the manifold. It was essentially an electromagnetic field generator, necessary for directing the flow of plasma from the reactor housing to the engines. She could see the problem the moment he opened it. Shock damage had thrown a field projector out of place, distorting the field.

For the umpteenth time, Samina reminded herself she'd chosen to come along, heedless of the danger. It did little to settle the twisting fear in her belly and heart.

Under normal conditions, the repair was best done after the core was shut down. Doing the repair while plasma was still going through the system was virtually impossible, since she couldn't get into the guts of the device without shutting it off entirely. But given their situation, that wasn't an option. They needed the extra thrust.

Samina was left with few alternatives, but one came to mind as she recalled Chief Khánh once showing the workings to an engineering crew. Her suited hands went over to the other field projectors. Slowly, carefully, she adjusted their settings. It required everything she knew of plasma fluid dynamics and electromagnetic field operation to tweak things, and she had to do it fast. The vessel vibrated as another shot blew through their weakened deflectors and opened the ship's interior to the void. Failed shields meant they were one unlucky hit away from being dead in space or plain old dead period.

She tapped away at the interior controls of the manifold, altering each projector in sequence. When it was done, she breathed a small prayer and tapped in the initialization sequence. The field within started shifting, changing its shape and intensity until it accounted for the dislocated projector.

Plasma again flowed freely through the system. She keyed the intercom built into the suit. "Bridge, full power to fusion drive!"

"Will do!" Cera shouted back.

Samina keyed her suit radio to Pieter's. "Do you want me to stay here or come back?"

"Stay, just in case," he replied. "And pray."

It was good advice.

Breach of Faith

In the engineering section, Pieter focused his efforts on the jump drive, trying to ignore the G-forces pressing against him. They were growing again, and now his entire body ached, especially the parts he'd braced to the drive to keep the acceleration of the ship from pushing him away. His magboots were set to maximum to reinforce his bracing, but that did little to lessen the discomfort.

Soon he found the problem. Damage from the hit to the stern knocked one of the internal components, the particle focusing frame, out of alignment. The drive couldn't physically generate the particle stream that tore open space-time and created wormholes, not until he fixed it.

This was not as easy as it seemed. The G-forces complicated matters, and the bolts holding the frame in place were tight. He'd have to bring it out and put it back in, a timely repair. Doing so under fire and G-forces? God help me, this is going to be difficult.

One by one, he loosened the bolts. As he worked, the ship rocked hard around him once more. The hit had been close. Too close. Fear threatened to grip his heart, but Pieter forced it down. Don't think about it. You can't fix it. You can fix this. Remember what Uncle Maarten said. "Fix what you can and leave the rest to God."

The final bolt dropped in his hand. Next came the positional locks, which gave way quickly from a flick of his thumb on each. He gripped the frame with both hands of his hardsuit and pulled. The frame didn't budge. It was wedged in. He gritted his teeth and pulled again to little avail. He started to groan as he put everything he could into it.

Breach of Faith

For Henry and the others, there was good news and bad news.

The bad news was that the League destroyers were dead set on killing them, and their volume of fire wasn't slackening in the least—it was steadily blowing holes in his ship.

The good news was that the Tash'vakal were finally entering range, and that would give the League something else to worry about.

A couple of their ships started the assault with a missile salvo. Soon their particle lances and other weapons fired on the League destroyers, immensely complicating their efforts to kill the Shadow Wolf. Cera’s maneuvering evened out as the incoming fire slackened.

One of the destroyers was still mostly free of Tash'vakal attack, however, and it continued to pursue them.

"We're still at least five minutes' burn from the limit," Cera said, "an' still no jumps. What're your orders, Captain?"

Before he could answer, Piper spoke up. "I'll add that we're almost out of rounds on all auto-turrets, plasma cannons are low on karnon, and even the quads are burning out."

Henry considered it all and stared at the holotank again. Two of the destroyers focused on the Tash'vakal. Their fire against the Shadow Wolf slackened as a result. The third destroyer, the one that had evaded their last Hunters, was another story. It still pursued them doggedly.

A thought crossed his mind. The Hunters!

"Cera, make our bearing zero five nine mark positive thirty-six. Follow that course as closely as you can."

Cera obeyed. She didn't point out that it would take longer to reach the limit at that heading, but Henry didn't expect her to. She’d know he was up to something, and that was always good enough for her.

The change in their course prompted a similar course change from the League destroyer. Its officers tried to keep their main weapons on-arc with the Shadow Wolf, which was, of course, precisely what Henry expected and indeed wanted.

Tia glanced back at him. "Why the course change?" she asked, hiding her worry over their deflectors now being red on every arc. Another plasma beam sizzled through space at them and barely missed. Missiles still arced in, tracking them relentlessly.

"You'll see."

"Looks like they're coming on course to block us off from our approach to the limit," said Piper. "They must be afraid we're going to get away."

"They are." Henry didn't dare grin, not yet. He still wasn't sure his math was right, rushed as it was. He didn't have anything but a gut instinct this would turn out as he hoped. He watched the League's ship course intersect theirs, putting itself between them and their apparent objective, its weapons fire steady, as it tried to deliver killing blow. The range closed, closed more than he felt comfortable seeing, and he started to wonder if he was wrong.

Two signatures re-appeared on the holotank, not far from the destroyer, and both immediately headed straight for the League vessel.

Tia's jaw dropped. "What the hell… it's the Hunters!"

"Those AIs are pretty smart," Henry said. "Newer models are good enough to play for time. If they figure they can't hit a target before running out of fuel, they cut engines and play dead. Turn themselves into mines, waiting for a target they can hit." He finally allowed himself a small smile. "It's easy for anyone to forget about them."

Piper whistled. "Wow," she said, her voice strained by the Gs they were pulling. "We really should get some more of them."

It took a second, but Henry laughed too. "Piper, that missile volley we dropped cost more than we get in a year of good work. Not happening."

The League destroyer recognized its predicament. Its engines increased thrust, and it started trying to evade again. Point-defense fire erupted around the ship as it tried to nail the missiles.

But this time, the range was too close. The League helm officer didn't have any options to evade a hit. Within five seconds, both missiles plowed into the destroyer's deflectors and exploded violently—its shields collapsed in turn.

Henry knew the ship had survived. The missile hits were on different quadrants; the destroyer had no deflectors, but she wasn't crippled. But now, the close range worked in their favor. "Piper, fire the neutron cannon. Cera, as soon as she connects, bring us back around to the shortest course for the limit."

"Yes, sir!" the two ladies answered in near unison. Piper's response was particularly energetic. With a stroke of a key on her board, she triggered the neutron cannon's covering plates to open.

All that was left was for Cera to give her the shot. She relayed the positional data necessary. Cera adjusted their heading to match.

The moment the tone came from the system, Piper fired the cannon.

The blue-white beam erupted from the cannon nestled on the Shadow Wolf's belly. The highly packed concentration neutrons, born as a byproduct of the ship's fusion drive, shot forward at nearly the speed of light.

Without the benefit of deflectors to stop the incoming beam, the destroyer took the impact directly. It cut right through armor and hull plating, spearing the interior with deadly precision. A blast erupted from within the gut of the ship. A great, terrible wound formed at the point where it struck the vessel.

Without bothering to take a second shot, the Shadow Wolf turned away from the enemy and burned hard for the limit. In the bridge, there was a release of tension and the feeling they were home free spread like wildfire.

That was when the ten missiles erupted from the destroyer's surviving cells, all at once.

Piper swallowed and shook her head, voice filling with alarm. "We're almost out of ammunition on the auto-turrets, we'll never shoot them all down."

"Cera, how far to the limit?" Henry asked.

"One minute!"

"They'll intercept us in fifty-five seconds!"

Five seconds. Evasive maneuvering toward the limit would help, but against that many missiles, the inability to shoot them down would tell. Henry opened an intercom to engineering. "We're going to need to jump in a minute."

Breach of Faith

Pieter heard Henry's voice over the intercom and returned his attention to the frame. He had an extendable pry bar out from his tools wedged in, and he pulled for all his worth. There was a growing sound, the protest of shrieking metal.

The frame came loose. He fell backward, but his magboots kept him from actually falling completely. He straightened himself and took in a breath. Every muscle in his arms, shoulders, and chest hurt. He'd likely sprained something. Oskar can heal it later. He snatched up the frame and gave it an inspection. There were no signs of severe damage, just the slight dent in the housing from where it was wedged in, and another from his prybar. It’ll still work.

That was the good news. The bad news was he had to fit the focusing frame back into its proper place on the Lawrence drive. It was not easy to do in a rush, or under 2.7Gs, for that matter. The positioning had to be just right, or the drive would not be able to generate the Lawrence particles to open a wormhole.

Sweat beaded on his forehead that he couldn't clear away through his suit, another annoyance to go with the rest. Work, damn you, work! filled his head as he tried to get the alignment just right.

"Engineering, status!"

"I've almost got it!" he called out.

Breach of Faith

The first of the missiles streaked on a terminal course ten seconds before the Shadow Wolf made it to the limit.

Cera responded as best as she could. She started corkscrewing the ship, using the maneuvering thrusters to change their attitude and positioning without changing heading or taking away from their thrust. The maneuver kept them from taking an immediate impact. Streams of magnetically-propelled projectiles erupted from the auto-turrets whenever they seemed to have a shot.

Then one of them went silent. "No ammo in auto-turret 4!" Piper announced.

A shot from one of the quads finally landed home on the missile, blowing it apart. "Missile down," Vidia said over the intercom.

"We're past th' limit," Cera confirmed. "Still can't jump."

"Engineering, whenever you can!" Henry called out, even as more missiles came into range. Fire from the guns lashed out toward the warheads. One died from an impact by auto-turret rounds, just for the same turret to go dead a moment later. Another one was clipped and started maneuvering wildly before crashing into another, destroying both.

"All auto-turret ammo is exhausted," Piper said. The gravity in her voice was appropriate. Without the auto-turrets, the rest of the volley wouldn’t be stopped.

"Engineering, we need to get out of here, now!" Henry shouted into the comm.

Breach of Faith

Pieter heard him and redoubled his efforts. Come on, come on! He carefully shifted the frame again, waiting on the display to go green for an alignment fit. It continued to display red for no alignment. Steady, steady.

The ship shuddered again. Not a direct hit, but likely a close one, he reasoned. A stern reminder that he was out of time. He carefully shifted the frame again, waiting for that green light that seemed to stubbornly refuse to appear. Another millimeter, then another.

Henry shouted over the line again, but he blocked it out. Indeed, he didn't dare answer, as his focus on the frame had to be absolute to make sure this worked.

Red, red, still red, green.

With one hand to steady the frame in place, Pieter reset the positional locks to hold the frame in place. That wasn't enough to make a jump work, though. The vibrations from activating the drive would overpower the locks and shift the frame, undoing his careful work. He needed to re-tighten the bolts that would keep everything in place.

While the locks would prevent minor jostling from undoing the alignment, Pieter left nothing to chance. He still kept a careful hand on it to make sure while his other hand took up the autospanner. It took a mere two seconds each to re-tighten the bolts.


"Now!" he screamed as the last of the bolts fit snugly back into place.

Breach of Faith

Everyone saw the indicator turn green. Cera didn’t wait for an order before she started leveling out the corkscrew and immediately keyed the jump drive.

A wormhole blossomed open ahead of them in a veritable rainbow of color. As always, it was a wonder to behold, a bridge to span a rip in the fabric of space that would take light years to traverse, a lifetime's travel at realistic sublight speeds.

Cera finished her adjustments to put them on course for the wormhole and squeezed an bit of extra acceleration from the fusion drive, given the missiles were right on their tail. She put her hand over the control to cut the wormhole the moment they were through.

No one spoke as their wounded ship plunged through. The instruments blanked out from the particle interference, as they always did. There would be no telling if a missile came through, not until it hit them, and a direct hit would likely blast them in two. All they could do was wait and see.

Gradually, the feeds returned. Open space greeted them, clear except for the nearby fleet of privateer ships, about half an hour's burn in-system from their arrival point. Much further ahead were the League-held Q-ships and the disabled Lusitanian fleet.

Henry breathed out. "No missiles?" he asked Piper, as if seeking confirmation.

For a breathless moment, she checked over the scanners. They could all hear her palpable sigh of relief. "Looks like they didn't make it through the wormhole before it closed," she said.

For a moment, the bridge was silent, as if they wanted to make absolutely sure there would be no final surprises.

Then Tia started to laugh. Cera did too, and Piper whooped in joy, and finally, Henry, forgetting himself for the moment, let out a hearty whoop of his own. "We made it!" he shouted. He keyed the intercom again, this time to the whole ship. "We made it! We got out! Well done, everyone!"

"You don't think they'll try to follow, do you?" Tia asked, as if deciding that not proposing the possibility would ensure it came.

"Our neutron cannon shot wrecked the closest destroyer. The other two had the Tash'vakal on their asses. So yeah, I'm pretty sure we're clear."

"Now you just have to get the Tash'vakal twenty thousand tons of hull alloy and bacon," Piper said. "After that fight, it’ll be a snap."

"Don't remind me." Henry sighed. He was already considering how to pay the “toll.” Not that we have a choice. Not doing so would guarantee the Mek'taman Clan, and any other Tash'vakal nomad clans they were friendly with, would be out for blood. Worse, there were plenty of people who'd sell them out to the Tash'vakal.

The voice of Piotr Tokarev interrupted them. "Shadow Wolf, this is Morozova. Status?"

"Morozova, we're good," Henry said. "League cruiser is down, as is a destroyer. One destroyer likely down too, the other two are fighting for their lives against a clan of Tash'vakal."

"Ha! Even Devil's Lizards hate League. Pay evil unto evil!" There was a pause. "Burning for League Q-ships. You join?"

"We're in bad shape, but we'll try to keep up," Henry offered. "Cera, bring us into course with them; keep it easy on the fusion-drive."

"Won't be hard, given all th' speed we've kept through th' wormhole," she offered. "Bringing us on course now, fifty percent thrust on fusion drive."

The lower setting would keep the Gs to a tolerable 1.05, only barely taxing the inertial compensators. At this rate, we'll probably have to replace those too. Ugh, we're going to be bankrupt when this is over, even with Vitorino's money.

Still, Henry had to smile. They'd won. All that was left was the crying, and that would come from the other side. "Send a transmission to the Lusitanian government, for Vitorino and Carvalho," he said. "It's time we break the news."


The minutes passed in the suite of the Royal Lusitanian, and as they did, João Carvalho grew more agitated. So far, everything was going mostly to plan. The privateer fleet was a complication that could be dealt with, so long as the League military showed up and put the final capstone on the operation.

However, the League ships hadn’t showed up.

At first, Carvalho presumed it was a simple timing issue. Their timers were a few minutes off, no big deal. But a few minutes became five, then ten. There was still no sign of the Marat and her squadron, while in space, the League-crewed Q-ships continued to make good with broadcasts urging a rising against the Estado Novo.

A report came in on his tablet. Director Travada expressed concern about the local police and military forces supporting the security service’s. The broadcast from Captain Dominguez had spread wide before the planetary network was brought down, and his words were heard by many soldiers and police. They were expressing "reluctance" and behaving in a "dilatory" fashion.

He could read between the lines. The security services were loyal to the State, and thus to him—as the perceived mouth of Vitorino—but the other agencies were having doubts. He was facing a potential crisis if he didn't assert control.

And still, no sign of the League ships. Finally, Carvalho gave in. In defiance of arrangements, he opened a narrow-beam transmission to the League ships.

Soon Commander Aristide appeared on the screen, commanding from the former Kensington Star. She scowled at him. "You should not be using this channel."

"Where is the squadron?" Carvalho hissed.

"They will jump in shortly," Aristide said. Her tone was insistent. "Do not panic." Her eyes narrowed. "Where is Vitorino?"

"He panicked. He was going to betray you due to the broadcasts from the privateers. I was forced to kill him."

"Ah. I would have expected as much from an individualist like him. But I expect better from you, Carvalho. We are in control here. The ships will arrive momentarily."

"The security services are losing control of the military and police," Carvalho warned. "If the fleet doesn't arrive soon—"

"That is something you will have to handle, Carvalho. Now you wield power, which is good for your people as you recognize the superiority of society. Do what is necessary."

Aristide's image disappeared. She'd cut the line from the other end. Carvalho took a breath and steadied himself. Yes, he'd need to do what was necessary, and that included asserting control. It wouldn't be easy. Travada was a devotee of Caetano, not Vitorino, so empowering him would make a dangerous adversary for his long-term plans.

I must trust that the League will aid me, if needed.

Carvalho started to type a message. It was authorization to detain anyone, even someone in uniform, who failed to obey the orders of the RSS. He worked to give the directive the spin he knew Vitorino would employ. It wasn't time yet to have the "terrible" attack that would "claim" Vitorino's life. Perhaps I can make Travada look responsible. I could consolidate control.

Just before he sent the message, Carvalho's attention was captured by the news of a wormhole forming. Initial elation filled him, only to be replaced by dread and confusion when he saw the wormhole was not beside the Q-ships as planned.

Even worse, only one ship came through. Carvalho ordered the nearest probe to get a visual image. It took a few minutes for that image to appear. Despite some rather visible damage, he recognized the frame of the Shadow Wolf.

The system informed him a signal was coming in from the Shadow Wolf. It wasn't a wide transmission but directed at the military network, addressed to him and Vitorino. With worry twisting his guts, Carvalho debated whether to accept the call. Ultimately, he did if only to find out what his foes were up to. The screen changed to show Henry's image. He appeared fatigued, but his smile was triumphant. "Ah, Carvalho. Where's your boss?"


For a moment, Henry's smile waned, then he laughed. "You killed him, didn't you?"

"I won't dignify that with an answer."

"Then don't. But I know Vitorino. He's flexible. The moment your little plan with the League went awry, he started calculating ways to jump sides and make it work out for him. Your bosses wouldn't have liked that. Your real bosses, I mean."

Carvalho seethed. "You're involved in this little display, then? It won't do you any good. Any moment the squadron will arrive, and it'll be easy to spin you and these privateers as working for the Coalition."

"Ah, but you're wrong there, Carvalho. That League squadron's never going to show. They're a bit busy with the Tash'vakal right now. What's left of them, anyway. And the cruiser's gone." Henry’s smile shifted, but it didn’t leave his face.

Carvalho's heart started pounding. No, he has to be lying. It’s a bluff. "Your ship couldn't handle a destroyer, let alone a cruiser. What you say is impossible."

"I have my means," Henry replied cryptically. "I should tell you, we're transmitting on a subchannel our run-in with the Leaguers. The mere fact they were at TR-209, within jump range of Lusitania, will make people incredibly upset. With the evidence we have of your involvement, you're not getting out of this. I'd turn myself in if I were you."

Carvalho responded by shutting down the line. It was a lie. It had to be. It must be. Otherwise, everything he'd worked for was gone. No. He wasn't going to let Captain Henry trick him. He brought up his tablet and sent off his order to Travada.

A moment later, another report came in, one which filled him with fury. Travada indicated "rogue" RSS agents directed the prisoner transport to the National University. Once there, they released Ascaro, al-Amin, and the rest of the prisoners. A massive gathering had sprung up, one that was still gathering steam.

Carvalho immediately typed a response, demanding Travada send his most loyal agents with a full contingent from the police and military to take her, with orders to shoot anyone who resisted or tried to intervene.

Breach of Faith

At the University, Ascaro was busy herself. A growing crowd of citizens filled the Commencement Hall at the National University, a space used for functions or large-scale ceremonies. Along with Palmeiro and her "patriotic" RSS agents, the leadership of the university was already coming over to her side as the recording of Captain Dominguez and other evidence was freely circulated. Even the shutdown of the planetary communications networks hadn't stopped this, with citizens sharing data through direct links instead of planetary commlink.

Now there was more. Recordings showed a civilian vessel evading fire from League warships. Ascaro wasn't aware of its importance until a horrified university professor introduced herself as Dr. Ana Ribiero. "That star is TR-209," she said.


"Yes. It's a star system near here, within one jump of most Lawrence drives," Dr. Ribiero said.

The idea shocked and horrified Ascaro. "Then… the League's military ships are within one jump of Lusitania?"

"Yes," the woman replied emphatically. "Any astronomer familiar with our region of space knows it. TR-209's layout is known to everyone."

Ascaro immediately recognized the ramifications. The strange Q-ship fleet, claiming to be here to foment a democratic rebellion but apparently part of the League, and now knowing there was a League force within a jump. Vitorino, you fool, what have you done? The League will take us over the moment you give them the opening! How could you be so hungry for power!

"I would feel more comfortable if we had the military or police on our side," al-Amin remarked from beside her. A physician of the University had already healed her wound with his first aid equipment.

"I’d prefer both," Ascaro said.

A commotion started roiling the crowd, and not just from these fresh recordings. Ascaro stared out at the crowd to see a growing wave of dark-suited security troopers with BDU-clad soldiers and uniformed police with them.

"You should flee," one of the University leaders whispered. "Slip away."

"They know I'm here. They'll be ready for me to try." Ascaro swallowed and stirred up her courage, not so desperate as it'd been in the prisoner transport. "No, I must act now. For our people." She strode forward, making her way through the crowds, a host of respectable citizens behind her. Each was risking their livelihoods, their liberty, indeed their lives by standing with her, but they remained at her side. She might have bitterly wondered where they were in the past, when she'd tried and failed to restrain the Government's slide to dictatorship, but for the moment, there were no such thoughts; they were here now, and that was the critical part.

Finally, the two groups met. Immediately, she could see the police and military personnel were not comfortable. Soldiers and police officers exchanged glances with one another, while glum facial expressions were held by most. But the RSS was in charge of internal matters, and disobedience would be dangerous.

As for the black-clad men and women, they were not her friends. Most of the RSS were entirely given over to the idea of the Estado Novo, and believed the concept of democracy was a weakness that endangered the nation. Some, like Palmeiro, were willing to look past their differences, but she knew most wouldn't. Especially not the one in the lead.

"I am Inspector João Travada," he said aloud. "Paulina Ascaro, Saniyya al-Amin, you are under arrest for treason against the State."

Ascaro recognized him. He was Director Travada's nephew and known to be a creature of the late, unlamented Cristina Caetano. "The only treason committed this day is by those working with the League," she replied. "Surely you're not so dogmatic to ignore the evidence?"

"Evidence dispatched by Coalition operatives, no doubt, to confuse and befuddle our response." Travada’s mouth curled up into a grin. “We’re not deceived.”

"That makes no logical sense," she charged. "All they've done is ensure no democrat will bother rising to support this supposed fleet of ours. We're content to see where the situation takes us, but only if you leave us alone."

Travada responded by motioning to his personnel, who lifted their weapons. "Everyone here is under arrest. Resist, and you will be fired upon."

Some in the crowd flinched back, facing mortality as they were. But it wasn't the first time that night Ascaro had done so. She held her ground. "Then fire. Murder your fellow Lusitanians for standing up for their rights and their nation," she challenged. "Be a dupe for our enemies."

"You are our enemy," Travada hissed angrily. "You and all so-called 'democrats'; anyone who's prostituted themselves to the Coalition!"

"You can say that, even as a hostile fleet moves in our system and our betrayed forces are helpless to resist? Today is not about being democrats or nationalists or socialists, or about whether our ancestors were Portuguese or Moroccan or Basque, it's about being Lusitanians," Ascaro insisted. "Our independence is at stake!"

Travada reached ahead and grabbed her forearm. She pulled back, and some of those with her surged forward to help her. His people went to stop them.

Before the fight could begin in earnest, a large man stepped between them. His beard and appearance suggested he was Moroccan, and his uniform was that of a military officer, an Army man. He grabbed Travada and pulled him away.

"What are you doing?" Travada shouted as his eyes darted from side to side like a caged animal.

"Preventing you from making this worse," the officer said. He turned his brown eyes to Ascaro. "I am Colonel Hussein al-Jabar of the Capital Defense Regiment, ma'am. I believe you're right. We will stand with you."

"As will we." The strong female voice saw the arrival of a large woman, middle-aged. Ascaro recognized her as Deputy Chief Fernandes of the Gamavilla police.

"Traitors," Travada said. "You're both traitors. Enemies of the State!" He turned to his personnel, ready to order them to fight, but it was clear to all their position was untenable. The police and military had them dead to rights. A cheer was already rising from the assembled.

"Inspector, until such a time as this matter is settled, I must insist on your disarmament," al-Jabar said. "For the sake of order in the capital."

Travada looked over his people for several long, tense seconds. If they fought, they might yet do a lot of damage, and Ascaro imagined each was ready to kill those they felt to be traitors.

Whether it was doubts or simple recognition of their situation, the RSS personnel dropped their weapons. Travada did so as well. "When this situation is clear, and the Prime Minister restores control, you’ll live to regret this," he said to them.

Deputy Chief Fernandes and her police saw to their removal from the scene.

Ascaro breathed a small sigh of relief. But only a small one. The situation was only going to get worse. "Colonel, has anyone discussed this with Vitorino? The Prime Minister may be a corrupt bastard, but his corruption was always in business and trade. This is rather aggressive for him. Either he knows something we don't or—"

"All I know is his last reported location," the Colonel answered.

"If I could see him, maybe I could speak with him, reason—"

At that point, Palmeiro stepped out from the crowd. "President Vargas wishes to speak to you," she said to Ascaro.

"Of course," she replied.

Breach of Faith

For Commander Aristide, the passing time quickly confirmed her worst fears. The operation was fatally compromised. Probably by the attack on Pluto Base. Zervakos' squadron's failure to arrive solidified their failure.

Her options were limited. She had no doubt they might yet beat the privateers burning toward the Q-ships. But what could she do then? She had no armies to demand Lusitania's capitulation. Destroying their fleet gave her no advantage in that regard. All she could do was sit in-system and wait for developments, and that would be done with increasing difficulty and to no benefit.

It was a deep, bitter taste to her. In all of her internal operations, she'd never known defeat. She'd crushed rebellions and resistance forces with brutal efficiency throughout her career. Now here, in the most significant mission she'd ever been called upon to aid, her work was for nothing. The entire thing was a waste. The sacrifices at Pluto Base were in vain.

It was with bitter, white-hot anger that she finally relented to the inevitable. "The operation is a failure," she said aloud. Seeing the worried glances between crewmembers, she added, "You have all done your Social duty," to reassure them. "It was not your actions that led to our failure. The Committee of Social and Public Safety will recognize your innocence on that count."

"Then what shall we do, Commander Aristide?" asked Commander Ivan Neworth, the ship's official captain.

"Order the fleet to withdraw to the jump zone, away from the privateer forces. Astrogation, by the time we arrive at the limit, have a course back to League space ready."

"Aye aye, sir," came the replies.

Aristide almost left it at that, but her eyes passed over the new arrival. She recognized the ship in question: the Shadow Wolf. The vessel had undermined the operation from the moment they became involved. As the Q-ship fleet turned away from Lusitania, she addressed her communications officer. "Lieutenant, open a channel to this civilian vessel." She used a tap of the holotank to relay the information to the station in question.

"Hailing. They're accepting."

"Put them on the main viewer."

Breach of Faith

On the Shadow Wolf bridge, Piper did the same. This allowed Henry and everyone else on the bridge—which now included Yanik, Vidia, Felix, and Oskar—to face the image that appeared. The woman in question had a cold demeanor, with skin the same dark tone as Henry's own, and her uniform similar to Li's. "James Henry of the Shadow Wolf?"

She’s with League External Security. "That'd be me," Henry replied. "And you are?"

"My name is unimportant." Her nostrils flared. "How and why you get involved in this matter is not my concern. Only the fact of your interference is. James Henry, crew of the Shadow Wolf, by your actions, you have harmed the Socialization of the Sagittarius Arm and therefore declared yourselves as enemies of the League of Sol. Know that your role in this operation will become known to my government, and we will respond accordingly. I look forward to learning of your termination." She made a hand signal, and the channel cut out.

After a moment, Henry glanced at Piper. "They're not coming this way, are they?"

"Nope. They're burning toward the system nadir."

He let out a breath. "Well, that's a relief." Henry chuckled. "Never thought I'd get to see the backsides of a League fleet again."

"Always a fun sight." Felix laughed as well, a sound that hadn’t been heard on the Shadow Wolf for some time.

"So I'm guessin' we won't be goin' back t' New Hathwell any time soon?" Cera asked.

"Definitely not," Henry said. "It was pretty nice of her to warn us they'll be gunning for us, wasn't it?"

"Yeah." Tia nodded. Her voice betrayed her worry. "We're going to have to watch our backs carefully now."

"When have we not?" Yanik asked, as if the idea he wasn't already doing so was ridiculous.

"It's going to complicate our work, that's for sure," Henry remarked. "But we'll live. The important thing is the League'll have other things to worry about than just hunting us down. Right now, I'm more worried about what's happening planetside."

"Still no further word about things. Planetary comm network is still down, save a few signals. Probably old radio or encrypted government links."

"Keep burning for the rest of the fleet. I'm sure the Lusitanian military will be happy for our help, whatever Carvalho says about it." Henry settled into his command chair and waited to see how things played out.

Breach of Faith

The sight of the League Q-ships burning away broke João Carvalho. With increasing desperation, he attempted to get Aristide on comms, but she ignored him. Instead, she was abandoning him. With the fleet departing, the plan was ruined.

Not just the plan, but his dreams of the future, of the glory of being the Lusitanian who undid the crime of his forebearers and brought the unity of Society to his fractious, corrupt planet. It was all gone now. The victorious foes of his ideology would give him a trial and pronounce him a traitor. The movement toward Society would be crushed, set back ages. There would be no second blow against the Terran Coalition to capitalize upon Seville's attack.

For a time, Carvalho just sat there, staring at the dead face of Duarte Vitorino. He'd worked so hard, ingratiated himself with Vitorino and then Caetano so much, and it was for nothing. As if the universe itself had decided to pluck his victory away at the last moment and condemn him to humiliation instead of the glories he'd sought.

It wasn't right. It couldn't end like this. It shouldn't end like this. He deserved better!

In his ruminations, he ignored the increasing messages on his tablet, even as their pace quickened frantically. When he was jolted from his thoughts, it wasn't by the tablet's incessant tones, it was by a solid knock on the door. He glanced up and then stood, eyes fixed on it, wondering what was next.

The door swung open. Armed personnel entered, accompanied by a half dozen people. He recognized Colonel al-Jabar, Deputy Chief Fernandes, even Director Travada was present and very pale, as was the head of the security detachment overseeing the Royal Lusitanian.

At the center of the group was Paulina Ascaro. Her presence disgusted him, and now he no longer needed to hide it. To him, she was a tool of the Terran Coalition, a retrograde who clung to the past.

Her eyes took in the room, and her nose curled as the smell came; indeed, all of them showed visceral reactions to the scent of loosened bowels from the corpse of Vitorino. "My God, what have you done?" Ascaro asked.

"I do not answer to you," he said. "I’m in charge here."

"Actually, you do, and I am," Ascaro replied. "By request of President Vargas, I am now Prime Minister of Lusitania."

Carvalho snarled. "You?" He glared at Director Travada. "And you allowed this?"

"The President's authority under the Estado Novo is clear. While I disagree with his choice, I am bound to obey." Travada's eyes fixed on Vitorino. "What have you done, Carvalho?"

"What was needed. What was necessary. I would have undone four hundred years of error, given our people a new beginning." Carvalho shook his head. "You’ll ruin us all."

Ascaro’s mouth was still agape. "Arrest this man. He is a murderer and a traitor."

Carvalho's fate was sealed. But he had one chance to strike a blow. I can give my people a chance. His hand reached for the x-ray pistol hidden under his clothes and raised it toward Ascaro. He only needed a second.

But he didn't get it. Even as al-Jabar, Fernandes, and Travada all threw themselves between Carvalho and Ascaro, the armed security people that had answered to him just an hour before raised their weapons. They showed no hesitation in pulling the trigger. Energy pulses slammed into his body. The result was nearly instant: the incineration of most of his internal organs. Pain filled Carvalho as his legs failed, and he dropped, his pistol falling free from his hand as he did.

It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, went through his mind over and over, until there was nothing else.

Breach of Faith

Once the shooting was over, Ascaro looked at the bodies of the slain men, as well as the display still showing before the curtains. Her eyes found Carvalho's discarded digital tablet. "I want that examined," she said, speaking to both Travada and Fernandes.

"It will be done, Prime Minister," Travada assured her. She could tell he was still reeling at her appointment. He was a man committed to the Estado Novo, and her, its harshest critic. He’d already made clear he wasn’t happy that the President had given official sanction to Camila Palmeiro and her team for acting against orders. But duty was duty, and if that were not enough, his nephew João was currently at Fernandes' headquarters under armed police guard.

"There is still the matter of the independent vessels burning in," al-Jabar remarked. "Some of them are known pirates and have warrants outstanding."

"Perhaps. But they have done a service for Lusitania today, Colonel, so I’m prepared to suspend those warrants for the time being. Wouldn't you agree?"

He nodded. "Yes. The circumstances justify it."

Ascaro sighed. She had her questions about them and so many more besides. Today's occurrences were going to make the next few weeks grueling, and she still had to see to forming a Cabinet from what was left of the Assembly and the various parties, plus the elections the President was required to call. She was already planning on insisting on constitutional reforms. Dismantling the Estado Novo would take time and effort, but with everything that happened today, maybe it was finally possible.

First things first, however. The stench in the suite was horrid. She had to get somewhere she could breathe.


It is the nature of crises to thwart smooth storytelling. The exciting bits came and went, the survivors breathed in relief, and then everyone gradually returned to a daily norm. Those norms changed sometimes, certainly. But even if it was a new normal, it was normal. There was no excitement of grand battles and speeches, just everyday activities. Chores, seeing to one's needs, and finding ways to survive what life was throwing at you now that it was done trying to kill you.

This held for the crew of the Shadow Wolf as much as it did for everyone else. The new normal was unmistakable—the League of Sol wanted to kill them all now, after all. With all of the shooting over, now came the routine issues: fixing the ship, keeping it flying, considering budgets, wondering—and worrying—about new jobs to keep things going. In other words, the usual.

Well, mostly.

A couple of days passed, during which Henry's energies were entirely directed to fixing his ship at Cardoso Station, sleeping, worrying about his dwindling accounts, and more sleeping. He was now escorted by armed soldiers of the Lusitanian Capital Guards Regiment to the audience he, Dulaney, and the Tokarevs were called to. It was not company he'd typically consider keeping. But circumstances had changed, especially if one were trying to thwart a year-long carefully-laid conspiracy.

The four men strode into a meeting room where a long table awaited them. Visible pitchers full of what Henry figured were coffee and tea awaited them. Two seats were already taken. President Emiliano Vargas sat in one, his balding head circled by silver hair and a beard of the same color over his chin. Beside him, Paulina Ascaro wore a dark blue business dress combination with a pin on her lapel of the green, red, and white tricolor of Lusitania. A younger woman was off to her side while, beside Vargas, an Arab man was watching patiently in his business suit. "Gentlemen," she said in accented English. "Thank you for your punctuality."

"Prime Minister." Dulaney nodded with respect. The Tokarevs and Henry followed suit. "President."

Vargas acknowledged him with a simple nod but said nothing.

"Gentlemen, your service to Lusitania is recognized by the government, and we extend our thanks. By your actions, you thwarted a serious danger to our continued independence. With the permission of the President, I have issued pardons to all of those in your fleet who had standing charges in our court system. They are free to land." Ascaro smiled as she finished her statement.

"We thank you, Madame Prime Minister." Dulaney nodded. He smiled back at her. "I'm sure they'll be grateful for the chance to land. Some of them have salvage they need to sell."

"I'm sure they do." Ascaro folded her hands on the table. "Is there anything further I might do for you?"

"The landing permission will suffice for our fleet. As for myself, I've been empowered by my government to open talks with the Republic of Lusitania."

Henry fought down a chuckle, and he failed to stop a grin from spreading across his face. It wasn't surprising that Trinidad Station might want to get some sort of recognized status.

"I admit I wasn't aware that Trinidad Station even had a government," Ascaro replied, "but then again, I didn't know they had a commodore either. I will discuss particulars at your leisure." She turned her attention to the Tokarevs. "Gentlemen, we’ve never had the warmest relations with Cyrilgrad, but I’m willing to hear you out."

Piotr spoke in Russian, and Pavel translated into passable English. "The people of Cyrilgrad welcome the chance to extend Christian brotherhood with Lusitania. Now that your people, like ours, understand the threat posed by the League, we hope you will join us in encouraging the worlds of the Trifid Region to resist their encroachments."

Ascaro smiled politely. "This incident certainly requires reconsideration of what neutrality means. I'd be happy to discuss mutual diplomatic efforts with your government."

Henry thought some of the smile might even be genuine. He wasn't sure what would be more shocking to other worlds: Lusitania extending recognition to Trinidad Station, a "pirate station" as far as the other planets were concerned, or that Lusitania might strengthen ties with Cyrilgrad. There would probably be some politicians and business executives ready to chew neutronium over all of it.

Now Ascaro's eyes turned to him. "Captain James Henry." Her smile now showed bemusement. "I read your file with the RSS and other agencies. I admit I'm surprised to see you here or to learn of the critical role you played in thwarting the League. Vitorino was your boss, after all."

"He never told me he was going to work for the League, probably because he knew I'd quit," Henry answered. "Trading with them is one thing. What he planned—"

"Yes," she interrupted. "You are an independent spacer, from what I've read. I'm assuming you'd prefer a monetary reward?"

Henry flashed a grin. "Money keeps my ship flying, Prime Minister. But if you're not particularly liquid, I'll happily take my ship's tonnage in starship hull-grade alloy and meat. Preferably bacon."

His comments caught even Dulaney and the Tokarevs by surprise. Vargas blinked, and Ascaro stared at him, open-mouthed. "Do I want to know?" she asked.

"Well, I'm due to deliver it in about twenty-seven days to the Torpan Transfer Station, or a clan of Tash'vakal nomads are going to make a pot roast out of my crew and me," Henry answered with a straight face.

"I see." Ascaro and Vargas exchanged glances. "Well, we can't fault that motivation. I'll have the Finance Ministry provide you with vouchers, then. We’ll gladly pay to keep you out of the lizards' stomachs," Ascaro noted. "And the Admiralty insists it be permitted to cover your repair and refueling costs. We're aware your vessel suffered significant damage preventing League warships from exploiting our fleet's helplessness."

"It'll be welcome, Madame Minister," Henry replied. "As a final note, among the people who helped me was the Reverend Jules Rothbard of the Faith Outreach Mission. His mission was seized by your predecessor—"

"I will order it returned to him immediately," Ascaro cut in.

"Thank you. I'm sure the residents of the neighborhood will be thankful as well." Henry thought about what to say next. He settled for the one item on his mind. "By the way, I'd like to congratulate you on your success in forming a new government. The best of luck in your elections."

"Thank you."

"Is it true the PdDN won't be challenging for seats?"

There was quiet pleasure in Ascaro's expression. "I cannot speak for what's left of their organization, but with the deaths of their leaders and new evidence that's come to light about their role in the Assembly bombing, I highly doubt they’ll stand for election."

"That's what I thought." You don't even know where that evidence comes from, do you? Well, I won't be telling you. Too much trouble.

"Before you go, gentlemen." Ascaro nodded to President Vargas, who in turn made a hand gesture to one of his staff. Four pairs of leather black cases were provided to each of them. Henry opened his and recognized them as medals. "In view of your services to the Republic of Lusitania, you are all hereby awarded the Order of the Tower and the Sword and the Order of Liberty."

"You are too kind, Madame Minister," Dulaney said.

"You saved our world," Ascaro said with feeling. "Additionally, all captains in your fleet will be given the Order of Liberty."

There was something in her voice that made Henry think there was more to this than just rewarding them. "I'm aware of the Order of the Tower and Sword," he said, "but not the Order of Liberty."

A twitch formed on Vargas' face.

Ascaro fought back a wider smile than the one she was showing. "It's not as old as the Tower and Sword, but it comes from our Portuguese ancestors as well," she said. "Our histories show it was formed to commemorate the fall of the Salazar regime in the late 20th Century. It fell out of favor following the rise of the Estado Novo, but I believe the circumstances justify bringing it back."

Henry avoided chuckling. Ascaro was happily signaling her plans for the future, and he, for one, hoped they succeeded. He picked up the cases before him and examined the medals, both finely-crafted art to embody the gratitude of a nation. A bitter, melancholy moment came with the action, a memory of previous rewards given for his conduct as an officer in the CDF. Commendations that he'd last seen ripped from his uniform on the most painful day of his life.

"Are you well, Captain?" Ascaro asked.

Henry forced the pain from his face. "Old memories, Madame Minister," he said. "Just old memories." He nodded at her. "You have my gratitude for what you've done."

"And you have mine, and that of my people," she replied.

Breach of Faith

After their visitors left, Ascaro turned her attention to Vargas. "I can imagine the protests now," she began.

"Indeed. Giving Trinidad Station recognition…" He shook his head, but the warm smile on his face suggested he agreed with her. "Perhaps it is overdue," he conceded. "As is the restoration of the Order of Liberty to our honors list. Now, if you'll excuse me."

Vargas departed, undoubtedly to attend to other matters. His chief of staff, el-Kabir, remained.

Ascaro noticed this just before she could speak to her own new aide, former RSS Agent Palmeiro. "Can I help you, Mister el-Kabir?" she asked.

"You already did," he said. "Quite well."

"Why did you give me Vitorino's medical report?" she asked. "And why did Vargas put me in that position in the first place?"

"We didn't know Vitorino's plans; otherwise, we wouldn't have supported you becoming his minister," el-Kabir answered. "At the time, it was hoped you could gradually build enough of a base to keep Vitorino honest. That, and it did make it easier for the President to make you Prime Minister."

"This is true," she conceded. "Aren't you and your superior worried I'm going to use the military to undo the Estado Novo? Having the fleet disabled by their own government has soured them on the matter, after all. I'm sure they'd be happy to tear down the RSS."

"Oh, we know you'll push for constitutional reforms, but you won't be launching any coups. You'll do it as it's meant to be done, through democratic ballot and debate," said el-Kabir. "I'm not worried about you taking extrajudicial action against the RSS. You did hire one to be your new aide, and she's even an Estado Novo supporter."

"I did so because, when the time to act came, she chose the needs of our people over ideology," Ascaro replied. "It's my great hope to persuade her that the world doesn't need the Estado Novo."

"We'll see, Madame Prime Minister,” Palmeiro said, though her smile appeared genuine

"Indeed, we will." El-Kabir grinned at them both. "The President will be needing me shortly. I'll see you both later." He made his way toward the exit, leaving the two women alone.

Ascaro turned to Palmeiro and asked the question on her mind. "Just what is up with that man?"

"El-Kabir has an RSS file, actually. It's required reading for all RSS agents in Gamavilla, as is yours."

"Oh? What’s it say?"

Palmeiro only smiled and said, "Nothing important. He's convincingly apolitical, which is why Vargas hired him."

"Ah." Ascaro wasn't sure she bought a word of it. But she didn't have time to quibble. There was still much work to be done.


The infirmary on the Shadow Wolf was one of the few quiet areas on the ship given the ongoing clearing of debris and repairs to the vessel. The door was kept closed to protect the patient within.

Cristina Caetano remained on one of the beds, head turned to the wall holo-viewer. Her wounds were still healing, and, like the others, she was sore from the intense gravities endured during the fight at TR-209.

Oskar worked swiftly, quietly cataloging his remaining medical gear after he'd used up a decent portion of supplies on the League station.

The viewer displayed a news channel from Lusitania. On the screen, a man in a dark suit was guided into a waiting police car. A voice spoke in Portuguese, a language she knew Oskar knew almost nothing of. Over her days here, Caetano found she was coming to appreciate the League dissenter. He was a decent man and physician, with all the compassion one would hope to find in someone of his occupation. With his skill, her injuries were healing quite well, and he ensured she felt as little pain or discomfort as possible.

The door slid open, and she looked away, making sure her face wouldn't be seen. This gave her a view of Oskar looking over. He went to stand and stopped. "Ah, Miss Gaon?"

Upon hearing the door slide to a close again, Caetano turned back to it. Miri approached her, wearing a jumpsuit lent to her by the crew. From the sweat on her brow and condition of the suit, it was clear she'd been working with the repairs. "I wanted to check on you," she said.

"I am unchanged." Caetano glanced back to the holoviewer, which now showed anchors speaking in a news studio. "Has Captain Henry returned yet?"

"No. He is still meeting with the Lusitanian government."

"Ah." Caetano turned in the bed. "Vargas will probably be a little miserly, but Ascaro will not." She grinned at the thought. "Ascaro is Prime Minister. I admit, this is precisely what I was hoping for."

"She's good?"

"Oh, a little. She does alienate some people with her attitude," Caetano said, "but I think most of those she would alienate are among the people killed by the Assembly bombing. And that's the precise reason I want her. She won't let Vargas and the others delay on constitutional matters. She'll push to reform the State back to a democratic model. She'll bring back the civil rights undermined and sacrificed over the last thirty years. She'll anger people to do it too."

"It sounds like you approve of her," said Miri.

"Very much, I do. I locked horns with many democrats in my time, but she was one of the few who was not afraid to get in my face." Caetano smiled grimly. "If she knew I was alive on your ship, she'd have me arrested immediately."

"She doesn't," Miri replied. "Henry won’t mention you."

"It’s for the best." Caetano nodded to the viewer. "I can hardly believe it. Everything I struggled for worked out. I won." Her voice was bittersweet in tone now. "I now face exile from my home and the graves of my family, but I still won."

"Your exile doesn't have to be permanent." Miri took another step closer. "In time, Cristina Maria Rodrigues e Silva can return to the Tagus Valley and see the places she still holds dear. She can be buried with her family."

"Perhaps, and that is my wish," Caetano said softly. "But that will be left to whoever executes my last wishes. It’s not safe for me to ever set foot on Lusitania again. Nor can the truth ever be told. Cristina Caetano must remain a villain. Always." There was pain in her voice as she spoke. After all of these years, with success hers, all she had was that bitter realization. She'd always known it would end this way, but now that it had—it was almost too much. The reward for all of her efforts, compromises, and the resulting soul-searching, was to become an exile from her home. She was permanently doomed to live out her life under foreign stars.

Miri placed a sympathetic hand on Caetano's shoulder. "You've done what you must, for your people. And you'll continue to do it, even with the pain it gives." She bit her lip. "I know something of that myself." She paused briefly at Caetano's quiet weeping. "Abdul is getting a ship prepared for you," she finally added, once the emotion had passed. "You’ll be on Brasilia within two weeks."

"A new life, then."

"Yes. In time, you'll get used to it. But you'll never forget where you came from."

Breach of Faith

The transit shuttle from Gamavilla arrived at Cardoso Station after a two-hour flight. Henry spent the time checking his finances and feeling relief. The Lusitanian government's offer to provide the materials he needed to match the Tash'vakal demand for tribute, and the repairs for the Shadow Wolf, would return the flexibility he needed. Especially now, with the League an avowed threat, which would limit the jobs they could enjoy. There were worlds now where the Shadow Wolf wouldn't be able to operate safely. Places where local governments had aligned with the League out of choice or necessity, or where the League's reach was too near.

Henry disembarked from the shuttle and headed toward the station's repair docks. He nodded to passersby, focusing on his thoughts. We can head to Omega, I suppose. Put some distance between us and the League. Just have to hope the work out there is enough.

Cardoso Station was one of six that serviced Lusitania's star system. It was at the closest Lagrange point to the planet and served as a base for civilian vessels and the planet's defensive fighter squadrons. Private transports too big to land planetside used the station to transfer cargoes to short-range haulers, meaning their crews often had nothing to do but wait and spend their pay. The transit shuttle terminal led directly to the commercial areas, which assisted them in this task. Here, restaurant chains, privately-owned stores and other businesses vied for money.

One of those cafés was his destination. It was a pre-arranged meeting signaled to his link while on the shuttle, one he thought best to get out of the way. It was a real hole-in-the-wall establishment, at the corner of the middle level of Cardoso Station's commercial section, just beside the transport car station leading to the docks.

Al-Lahim was waiting in a table to the side. "They make an excellent tajine here. The mutton comes daily from the Othmani District's butchers." He waited for Henry to sit before adding, "It makes me wish the Moroccans had joined my ancestors on New Arabia."

"I'd have been happy if we'd been able to be more unified," Henry said. "The League makes the inroads it's managed by taking advantage of all the rivalries." He shrugged. "But I'm just a ship driver, so maybe I'm ignorant of why we can't."

"Only Allah knows, and all we can do is trust in his Mercy and Justice," al-Lahim answered piously.

"So I've been too busy with other matters to find out how the peace talks are going. Any word on how the League's spinning this?"

"They're not," al-Lahim said. "The talks were a sham. A setup by the League navy to get a shot at bombing Canaan with one of their dreadnoughts. It’s all over the GalNet—haven’t you been paying attention?"

Henry frowned. A League dreadnought getting a clean shot at bombarding Canaan… even one salvo would result in billions dead. It would tear the heart out of the Coalition. He managed to regain his voice. "They didn't… how bad was it?"

"It’s been publically reported they failed," al-Lahim said. "I've not been told any specific details, just that they were going to make us look responsible for the murder of their diplomat. Thankfully, the plot was discovered in time and thwarted by the Coalition warship assigned to escort them to Canaan. The Victory Project finally paid off."

"Good to hear they got caught, then." Henry's brow furrowed. "Wait, the Victory Project? I thought that was propaganda."

"No, it was always real." For years, the Terran Coalition had been leaking information about a secret program to develop new technology to win the war. Codenamed Victory, hearing about it now was a shock. "Our first antimatter-powered warship, the Lion of Judah, stopped Seville. They chased down his flagship and destroyed it."

Henry stared. "The Lion of Judah? We named a warship after Jesus Christ?" Somehow, I don’t think Jules would approve.

"And its commanding officer is an Orthodox Jew," al-Lahim said, mirth creeping into his voice. "To top it off, the anti-matter reactor was invented by Doctor Benjamin Hayworth."

At the mention of Hayworth, Henry laughed. "You mean the scientist always going on debate shows to argue with his peers about whether God exists?"

"The same one. You can find out more detail by checking the GalNet. It's all over GNN and Canaan News Network."

"When I have five minutes to myself, I will." Henry considered it all. Things started to click into place. "This was all a big plan."


"Yeah. Think about it." Henry stopped speaking, not only to give al-Lahim time to ponder, but so the waitress could provide them with mugs of tea. Once she was out of earshot, he continued. "If both plans succeeded, they make the Coalition look vicious and deceitful. Here's an attempted coup at Lusitania using stolen ships, and over here, the Coalition breaking up the peace talks while murdering a League diplomat."

Al-Lahim sipped at his newly-arrived tea and nodded. "The League warship attack is written off as provoked by our side, while the neutral worlds are driven into the League's waiting arms.”

"While the Coalition's suddenly been decapitated," Henry added. "Making it vulnerable to further attacks. They put a lot of effort into arming those stolen ships. I'm betting they had plans to use them, either directly or through their new neutral allies. Sure, they'd be no good in a direct fleet battle, but they'd be well-equipped to start entering Coalition space and interdict commerce while the neutral worlds' fleets tied down the CDF's local forces."

"True. Then we have been blessed by Allah."

"You mean, we got lucky. If this had worked, the League would end up conquering all of us. All of Sagittarius."

"Yes, I suppose we did," al-Lahim began. "It helps to believe God is keeping watch over our efforts. That He will see us to the victory we need to save our homes."

Henry shook his head. "I don't quite agree. But I won't say any more to offend your sensibilities."

"I understand, perhaps more than you know." Al-Lahim took another drink and waited for Henry to do the same before he continued speaking. "I suppose the darkness of the galaxy affects us all differently. For some of us, faith shields us from the terrible things we must see or even do. For others, it becomes hollow, something of a sham."

Henry shrugged. I am not getting into a theological discussion. "So you still haven't said why you wanted to meet," he said. "I'm guessing it's not about arrangements for my special passenger?"

"The ship I'm preparing will be ready soon, and I've made arrangements for her transfer to be done with care," he said. "I have other matters I wanted to bring up."

"Like?" Henry shot him a sarcastic glance. "Don't even try to bill me for those Hunter missiles."

Al-Lahim let out a laugh. "And bankrupt you? No. I won't make the League's job so easy, Captain. I mean to discuss your situation."

"Right now, we're looking good. The Lusitanians are covering our repairs and refueling, and they're going to provide us the tribute I need so the Mek'taman Tash'vakal don't come hunting us."

"I'm gratified to hear it, but that's not what I'm thinking about," al-Lahim said. "The League won't forgive this."

"Yeah, the lady from Hartford's recordings made it clear they know who we are."

"Commander Yvette Aristide. She is ruthless and vicious. She'll do everything she can to ensure your death," warned al-Lahim. "You'll have to avoid any world where the League has any sway."

"I already figured that. I imagine the list of worlds is about to shrink, but it's still going to put a crimp in our available jobs."

"It will. But I'd like to help with that."

Henry knew immediately what he was talking about, and shook his head. "Oh, no, I'm not… this is a recruitment pitch, isn't it?"

"You could be a valuable asset for the CIS," al-Lahim said. "We'll pay you fairly well for transport services."

"And you'll send me into gauntlets of pirates and League people pretending to be pirates," Henry retorted. "I don't mind occasionally picking up someone for you or running a package on the side, but I'm not doing this full-time. I'm not doing that to my crew. We're going to have enough problems with the League after us as it is."

"Then you might as well enjoy our protections too." Since it was clear he wasn't winning Henry over, al-Lahim sighed. "You're one of us, Captain Henry. You fought for the Coalition. I'm asking you to come back home. Fight the good fight again."

Henry crossed his arms, and a hostile little smile came to his face. "That might've worked fifteen years ago," he admitted. "But you’ve forgotten how it ended for me. I was drummed out of the service. Humiliated and degraded. That tends to stick with people, doesn't make them want to sign up again, you know?"

"The Laffey." Al-Lahim let out a sigh. "Captain, I told you we had suspicions. What if I told you more? That certain segments of CIS intend to investigate the matter and get to the truth? The truth that, I think we both know, would exonerate you."

"I'd say it was years ago, and there's no point in bringing it back up, except to try and play the sympathy card with me." Henry's voice was heated. He felt an old, familiar anger and struggled to keep it down. Al-Lahim didn't deserve to be the target of it, not over something he had no involvement with. "I'm an independent ship driver, and that's all I'm interested in being. You want me to move a cargo or passenger, I'll consider it, if the pay's right. But I'm not serving the Coalition again. That's a bridge burnt down a long time ago." With that, Henry stood up, wanting the conversation over. But first, he drew a pair of one-escudo notes from his wallet and set them on the table. "For the tea. Have a good day, Major."

Al-Lahim looked at him intently. He let out a disappointed sigh and nodded, leaning back in the chair. "Inshallah," he murmured.

Henry bit back the skeptical remark that came to mind, remaining silent as he walked away.

Breach of Faith

Al-Lahim watched Henry disappear into Cardoso Station's commercial district and took another drink from his tea. He'd hoped that maybe all of this would finally do it, and he'd get Henry back into service. More than minor jobs. But it was clear there was too much bitterness.

"He said no?"

The speaker had an upper-class English accent straight from New Britain. Al-Lahim nodded to the new arrival at his table. The man had a plain appearance. It was part of his job. "Indeed," al-Lahim confirmed. "I'm afraid you came out here for nothing, Colonel Sinclair."

Colonel Robert Sinclair, CDF Intelligence, shook his head as he took a seat. "I have other reasons to check things out."

"Your ship is nearby?"

Sinclair grinned. "The Oxford is a jump away. It'll be fine." He glanced around. "Looks like things are returning to normal around here?"

"They are, in fact, better than normal. Our plan was overtaken by events, but we've wound up with what we hoped for: a democratic Lusitania. Ascaro will be tough on some matters, but with popular fervor backing her, I believe we’ll at least get Lusitanian support, if not outright belligerency."

"That's a relief. Lusitania coming around will shake things up in neutral space." Sinclair took the tea offered by the waitress and sipped at it, savoring the flavor for several moments. "As for Colonel Henry, we can give him more time. We knew going in he was not going to be brought back easily."

"I'm not sure you can bring him back at all," al-Lahim remarked. "Even without his bitterness, he would see it as against the interests of his crew."

"Time may change his perception. The League's hostility too. We're not worried about it." Sinclair took another drink and asked, "Are there any loose ends?"

Al-Lahim nodded. "There may be one."

"Give me the particulars. I'll see what we can do," Sinclair said as he smiled. "Then you can tell me how Kaiya's doing before I head planetside."

Breach of Faith

Sinclair found he rather enjoyed returning to Gamavilla. The architecture, the people, the climate. It was a far sight better than the cold climes he'd endured growing up in the Pennines of New Britain. His hometown of Garrigill, named for a village along the South Tyne back on Earth, was along the Tyne River of New Britain. It was beautiful but could also get rather cold.

As much as he enjoyed the sights, however, this wasn't why he was present.

The National Gardens were not far from the center of the city. An expanse of trees, flower lane, soft grass, and other green things, it was a big green blotch in eastern Gamavilla, roughly fifteen kilometers in area. Sinclair stood among the familiar sight of New British azaleas, enjoying the scent and admiring the skill of the Lusitanian government's gardeners.

A figure walked up beside him. A glance around showed they were the only ones present. "Lovely flowers," Sinclair said aloud. "They grow pretty well on Lusitania. A bit faster than I'd imagined possible."

"Indeed they do, sir." Beside him, Mufasa el-Kabir didn't even look his way. "It can be as much an art as science, and you know how weather can encourage or dampen things. Bad weather keeps the flowers from blooming. And then you get some unexpected good weather—"

"—and they open right up," Sinclair finished. A small grin came to his face. "Sometimes even when the gardener didn't plan on it."

"It can even perturb him a little," el-Kabir agreed. "But a good gardener accepts that, sometimes, things turn out your way by a higher will. God likes flowers too, after all."

"That he does." Sinclair turned away. "Take care, old chap, and I look forward to seeing how your gardens bloom now that the weather's so sunny."

El-Kabir nodded and turned in the other direction.

Once he was gone for a while, Sinclair walked along until he found a set of exotic flowers indeed. Canaan roses, they were called, brought directly from Earth and transplanted without engineering to the soil of Canaan. The natural soil wasn't quite right, however, and most of them died. Only a handful didn't. In the end, roses had to wait for the settlement of Tyrrhenia and New Washington to make a comeback.

All except that small handful. A mutation in their genetic code allowed them to better process the natural chemicals in the soil of Canaan, giving them a unique burgundy tone. It was hard for them to grow anywhere but Canaan.

He leaned down to take in the smell. To an observer, he appeared to be enjoying the rich fragrance—helped by the fact that he truly was. His hand touched the fertile soil, as if to examine it to see if it came from Canaan or was artificially made. After a few moments, he pulled his hand back.

With a final little smile, Sinclair walked away. His hand slipped into his pocket and dropped the data chip he'd just palmed from the soil into the embrace of the scan-protected inner pocket of his trousers. This will keep Lieutenant Tamir quite busy for a few days.

It's nice to see you doing so well, friend, Sinclair pondered as he walked through the garden. It's a hard thing, missions like this. It’ll be years yet before you can come home. But it's good work. He thought of the crest of Clan Sinclair and the motto of the noble Scots he called ancestors. "Commit thy work to God." And He will bless it, as he's blessed yours, Mufasa.

It amused him a little. The League had picked a corrupt trade minister to be their man, and went for the elaborate, direct takeover. Given their rhetoric, he imagined they'd understand soft power better. The ceremonial power of a head of state, properly directed and nudged, could work for a lot over time. Thanks to the League's failure—and what Sinclair was pretty sure was a touch of divine intervention— that timetable was shorter than they'd planned, but it was for the best.

Lusitania's democracy would be saved. It didn't matter whether or not they joined the Terran Coalition, so long as they were a free world with free people. That’s what will stop the League in the end.


Felix and Miri were waiting when Cristina emerged from the infirmary. She was in a basic suit with tinted glasses and a headscarf covering her head. So long as she didn't speak, nobody would recognize her if they saw her, which was the point.

"Al-Lahim's got your ship ready a couple of docks down," Felix said. "They're heading straight for Tyrone, a world in the Coalition. Once you're there, you can find a liner to Brasilia."

Caetano nodded. "I have all of you to thank for your hospitality," she said. "And you, Mister Rothbard, have my apology for the harm I caused your brother." She sighed and shook her head, guilt apparent in her expression. "I hurt so many in my zeal. I wanted to stop them, to destroy them from within, but—"

"Yeah, I get that," Felix said. "You were out-fascisting the fascists to try and trick them. Your end goal was good, and sometimes that's all you can try to do with life. Make the end something worth it."

They walked together to the port airlock and stepped out. The Cardoso Station repair crews were on break and would continue to be so for the next ten minutes, giving them a plentiful window to slip Caetano away without witnesses. Al-Lahim met them at the exit from the dock. "Miss Silva," he said. "Your ship awaits."

"Thank you."

"As for the rest of you," Al-Lahim focused his eyes on Miri. "Are you sure you don't want a ride back to Coalition space yourself, Miss Gaon?"

"I have plans, Abdul, although I thank you for the offer," she answered. "Perhaps I may find you for such a trip, if those plans don't turn out."

"Keep checking in, please. The Director would have my head if you came to harm."

Miri laughed and shook her head. "I appreciate the loyalty, I do, but I would be very cross with her if she did that."

"I'll pass that along," al-Lahim said warmly. "Major Rothbard, Miss Gaon, farewell."

"Goodbye, Abdul," Miri said. She gave him a small goodbye hug, and they said nothing more. Miri and Felix watched al-Lahim and Caetano depart the dock.

"So, what are your plans?" asked Felix. "Going to take up Tia's offer for a new ID?"

"Well, Karla Lupa's certainly going to require retirement," Miri said. She kept the grin on her face. "I do have quite a bit of money saved up. I could take a vacation, I suppose. I hear the Acevedo Islands are lovely. Miss Lopez and some of the others from your ship are heading down today, I overheard.”

Felix chuckled. "They are, but you won't see me going. I'll be fine staying up here helping to oversee the repairs. For now, though, I'm going to see what the grub on this place is like. I hear good things about the Othmani mutton."

"It's quite tasty."

Felix answered that with a nod and left the dock himself. Miri turned back to look over the Shadow Wolf, repairs still in progress from all the damage she'd endured. She is a fine vessel.

Breach of Faith

Things were feeling a bit back to normal in Henry's office. The crew was planetside enjoying a hard-earned leave, save for Felix, who was more interested in staying aboard and checking out Cardoso Station, as well as Yanik, who thought leave was frivolous.

Henry stayed aboard as well. The Shadow Wolf was his ship, and he wanted to watch over her repairs. It also gave him time to look over the vessel’s finances. They were better than he'd worried they'd be, mostly from the Lusitanians insisting on repairing and refueling her. The admiralty had even rearmed his ship, providing the needed parts and ammunition to get her weapons back to full functionality, with a few extra modifications that would be sure to help them down the road. He’d also given everyone a generous bonus so they could thoroughly enjoy their leaves.

But operations like these relied on work. Every day spent in dock without cargo to move was a day of lost money. Unfortunately, he’d lost one of his most high-paying clients with Vitorino dead. Their earning potential was going to suffer. Factor in the increased wear on the ship from all of the high-G, long-duration maneuvering with the fusion drive, and the Shadow Wolf could be looking at hard times.

There was a knock at the door. Henry glanced up and said, "Come in." The hatch slid open, and Miri entered. "Ah, Miss Gaon. Good to see you. Figure out your plans yet?"

"I've been thinking," she admitted. "I'll have to construct a new identity, of course. Karla Lupa is retiring."

"Of course. Going to remain a spacer? Or are you heading home?"

"Oh, I'm not going back," she said. "The League will want my head even more now. No, I'd like to keep moving."

"Well, they want mine too now, so we're in the same boat." Henry glanced back to his digital reader. "Tia can help you get a new ID. I’m sure she’ll sign you back up with the ISU too."

"I know. It's the issue of a job that I'm thinking about."


"Yes." Miri took the seat in front of his desk and settled her hands in her lap. "A ship like this is supposed to have a crew of at least fourteen, isn't it?"

Henry nodded. "Captain, First, Second, and Third Mates, Astrogator and Astrogator's Mate, a medical doctor or physician's assistant, Engineer and at least two Engineer's Mates, two helm operators, Communications operator, and at least two crew for manning the cargo holds. The ship's built for twenty crew."

"And you're at eleven now."

"We make it work," Henry said. "Cross-training and prior experience go a long way toward that." He gave her a curious look. "So how can I help you?"

"I suppose I should just get to it," Miri began. "The League wants me dead, and now it wants you and your crew dead, so I don't pose you any further harm. I'd like you to consider me for your crew."

Henry folded his hands on the table and appraised her with a careful look. "Well, I suppose Tia did talk us up by bringing up my sticking to proper ISU scale.”

"It's not the pay. Honestly, Captain Henry, I could retire for the rest of my life on the money I have in my accounts. But I don't see the point in it." Miri crossed her arms in front of her as she stared at him intently with piercing eyes.

"Because you figure all of the money in the world won't save you from the League."

"I have to be lucky all the time. They need only to get lucky once. They’d have an easier time if I became a stationary target," Miri pointed out. "My reasons for being a spacer still stand. I don't wish to become a privateer, and your ship is the best match for what I'd like."

Henry considered her words. They were still short-handed, and he did have enough funds for hiring on another hand. "It may not be permanent," he warned. "My flexibility's gone, thanks to the League. I've lost one of my big employers."

"I know. And if things don't work out, I'll find something else. But I would prefer serving with you."

"In what position?"

Miri smiled. "Well, I've got astrogation training from my CIS days, although I never specified it in my prior legends. I've spent the last five years working on ships. I honestly think I could justify asking to be your Third Mate."

Henry nodded. The truth was he'd been planning on asking Felix to take up that position in a few months, once the crew finished getting used to him. "Astrogator's Mate is also available."

"True, but filling in your command staff makes the most sense." After a moment, Miri's expression changed, showing realization. "Ah, I think I understand. Your friend Felix. You want him to be the Third Mate."

"I was going to ask in a few months, yes.”

"Well, he does have seniority on the crew over me. I won't object, but if he says no—"

"I'll offer it to you," Henry promised. Considering all of the candidates, Miri was very much the best choice. "Well, if you're interested, I am. You've impressed me these past couple of weeks, Miss Gaon. I'd be proud to have you on the Shadow Wolf." He stood from his chair and offered his hand. "I'll start getting the paperwork drawn up, if you'd like?"

Miri smiled and accepted his hand, shaking it. "I'd like that very much, Captain Henry." After they finished, she added, "I think it's time to put away the legends. I'm going to go sign up with the ISU as Miriam Gaon. After all, if the League's after you anyway, there's no point in hiding my identity, is there?"

"No, I suppose there's not," he agreed, coupled with a loud laugh.

Breach of Faith

Now that she had a new berth on a new ship, Miri began the process of turning the quarters she'd been placed in upon coming aboard into a permanent home. It would take a few trips to stores on the station to get her more supplies, and things to personalize, but the foundation was laid.

This time, she wouldn't be looking for escape routes, slicks for hiding things, or any of the other usual items her training looked for. It was time to put the past behind her for good.

Although she did have one final piece of business. She sat at the personal desk in her quarters and used her commlink to hail the Morozova.

Semyon Kuybyshev answered. "Ah, Miss Gaon," he said in Russian, aware she spoke the language. "What might I do for you?"

"Deliver a message to the Tokarev brothers. Tell them I used my contacts to look through some facial recognition files," she said. "The man they're looking for is named Allan Kepper."

Semyon took only a second to realize what she was alluding to. "Ah. They will be grateful. Go with God."

"Dosvidanya," she said as a farewell before ending the call. She wasn't sure the Tokarevs would catch him, but at least they knew who to look for now. I'm sorry I couldn't do more for you, Vasily. You certainly deserved more. But I promise you, if I ever run into Kepper again, I'll make sure he answers to HaShem for your murder.

Breach of Faith

Space tore open not far from the planet Harron, a wormhole opened by a Lawrence drive still in another system. The sleek shape of a League External Security personal cruiser emerged

Its pilot was not an operative of the League, though. Nor was he the owner, whose remains were still at the start of a centuries-long trip into one of the stars around the Trifid Nebula.

Allen Kepper ran a hand over the smooth surface of the controls for his new ship. He was already considering the costs of getting the IFF changed over and other elements needed to keep the League from quickly locating him. It would be a hefty penny, and he wasn't paid directly for this job.

But he had a payday already aboard the ship. Chantavit Li might be gone and unmourned, but his blood—and there'd been a lot of it—had proven useful. Kepper now had access to a wealth of data that Li had with him. He knew the names, identities, and covers of numerous League operatives. He had files about League intelligence operations Li was privy to, some he even commanded. The information would make him quite a wealthy man.

A smile crossed his face, and it wasn't the idea of the wealth. It was the boost these acts would bring to his reputation. The mighty League of Sol had tried to murder him. Not only had he survived, but he'd arranged the destruction of an entire secret base of the League and with it foiled a significant operation. The privateers would ensure word spread about his involvement, for anyone who knew what to look for. He'd have to be careful about taking jobs in proximity to the Leaguers, sure, but he'd handle any operatives they sent after him, and any idiots who tried to cash in, well—they'd make excellent examples.

Wealth and reputation. I could retire, but I'd die of boredom. But maybe I'll change my base. Sektatsh is a craphole. There are other, better places. Kepper smiled again and angled his craft toward Harron.


Hotel Ribeira was one of the nicer, yet affordable, hotels on the island of the same name. Ribeira Island was on the southern end of the Acevedo Islands, the second largest in the chain, with the city Porto Aguinaldo as its primary air and seaport. The island wasn't big enough for a proper spaceport, but passenger shuttles from Cardoso Station could be booked for flights down.

One such shuttle had brought down the vacationers of the Shadow Wolf crew for what Cera insisted would be a “girls' holiday.” Technically, this wasn't true, as Vidia came as well, but he was more interested in visiting the Bahá'í temple built on the neighboring Ascension Island by Antillean expatriates, so he'd taken the intra-island ferry shortly after arriving.

Tia hadn't been planning on a vacation herself. But Henry put his foot down and pointed out she needed time too. He'd even paid her out of his personal accounts for a ticket and room, his way of apologizing for the situation they'd gotten into.

Now Tia was quite thankful.

Over the previous few days, they'd had fun. Tia would happily remember the playful swimming, the nightly partying in their adjoined suites, and the utterly adorable moment of Samina turning blood red at being gifted with a two-piece swimsuit. Her wonder, in particular, was a special heartwarming: the poor girl hadn't been planetside in years and had no conception of this kind of fun given life on Trinidad Station.

Now Samina was plunging in and out of the surf wearing a more modest one-piece swimsuit she'd picked up. Cera rushed back in to join her while Piper and Brigitte lay side by side in the sand. Tia could see them from her vantage point at the hotel's beach-facing, pool-side bar. She took a last drink and handed a ten-escudo note to the bartender as a tip. She'd let the Thanh settle and then shed her linen dress robe to go out and join the others. Right now, she was content to smile as Cera started splashing at a shrieking Samina, continuing her dedication to teaching the young engineer-to-be how to have fun.

Tia heard someone settle into the stool beside her. She turned, and her smile vanished. "Comrade Felipe," she said.

Felipe Xiu stared at her. He was wearing clothing that was definitely not for fun, looking instead like he was heading to a political gathering. Which, Tia supposed, he could be doing. The pin of the Lusitanian Social Solidarity Party was pinned to the lapel of his shirt. His expression twisted into a frown. She thought he looked hurt. "So here you are. Enjoying the luxuries of the capitalism you once swore to hate," he said, his voice full of bitterness.

"I'm here for my crew," she answered. "They wished to celebrate our survival and asked me to join them. It's a thing comrades do, remember? Celebrate together as much as we struggle together?" The dark look on his face didn't fade, and Tia started to get an uncomfortable feeling. "Why are you here anyway? Is the Social Solidarity party here to enjoy these so-called capitalist luxuries too?"

"To find you," said Felipe. "To ask why… how… you could do what you’ve done."

"What I did? What do you mean?" She frowned. "And how did you find me?"

"Do not insult me, Tia!" Anger now joined the bitterness in his tone. "You and your damned Coalition captain have undermined the Revolution! You've pushed back the liberation of Hestia's workers, the liberation of all of Sagittarius' workers, by years, maybe decades!"

Tia crossed her arms and found she wanted another drink. "Felipe, the League aren't the liberators you think they are," she said. "I saw the crews they kidnapped. Innocent workers, who they hurt, beat, starved, and tormented no less than our poor comrades faced after the uprising. They’re no better than Rigault, Salazar, Creusot, and all of the other megacorps that exploit us!"

"They are our only hope!" Felipe insisted. "They're the only ones who can crush capitalism!"

"That's not true. There are other ways. Methods that don't involve brutalizing innocent people!" Even as she spoke, her voice heated, Tia could see she wasn't getting through. Her heart twisted with the realization, either out of desperation or anger, Felipe had gone entirely over to the League. He would rationalize away whatever she said, whatever evidence she might show, of their horrible behavior.

Felipe's jaw clenched, and his lips flattened. The muscles in his jaw tightened. "You are not the Tia I remember. The one whose life I saved. You've turned against everything we stood for. Our revolution. You've betrayed our dead comrades."

The insult made her nostrils flare. "That is not true," she insisted angrily. "I still long for the revolution on Hestia. But only for our people's benefit, not the League's."

"The League was right to let us lose," Felipe said, drawing an intake of air and a glare from Tia. "I didn't fully understand that until now. But they saw how limited our goals were, how small our vision was, and knew we had to be destroyed. So the true revolution could take root on Hestia, one concerned with the workers everywhere." He sucked in and spat on her.

Tia felt a rush of rage at the gesture.

"I wish I'd left you and Linh to rot," he hissed. "You are an enemy of the true revolution, Tia Nguyen, and the next time I see you, I'll see you punished for your betrayal of your class."

Tia matched his snarl with one of her own. "My only enemies are those who would oppress the people of Hestia," she said. "If you're going to join them, Felipe Xiu, that's on your head. If I see you again, and you're still in their number, I'll shoot you dead for the traitor you've become."

Felipe said nothing more. He stalked away.

Tia drew in a breath. Her anger still burned, but pain joined it. A hundred fond memories of her comrades of old were now tainted by Felipe's presence in those memories. He now stood, body and soul, with the betrayers of Tia and her comrades.

She found tears flowing down her eyes. At that moment, her desire to join the others evaporated. As the minutes of pain passed, she readied to resume drinking, hoping the Thanh would dull the pain of dashed hopes and sharp betrayal. Finally, she gave in, raising her hand to signal for the bartender.

Instead, she shrieked in surprise as water cascaded over her head, soaking her hair, her robe, and the swimsuit beneath. Laughter erupted a moment later. She stood, dripping wet, and turned to see Cera and Samina holding a large bucket, laughing away. She pursed her lips, and for a second, looked as if she were ready to kill them.

It didn't last. The anger she'd felt at Felipe fell away, washed away by the warm feeling in her heart toward the comrades who’d so playfully summoned her to join them.

"Enough bein' moody," Cera demanded. "We paid good money for this trip, Tia, an' I mean t' get our money's worth!"

"So you do." Tia glanced at the bar and noticed a bucket of ice and water with a couple of bottles inside. She pulled the bottles out and set them to the side. A sly grin came to her face as she gripped the bucket handle, lifted it into her hands, and in the same motion, thrust it forward to send the ice and water over Cera and Samina. They shrieked at the ice-cold water hitting them. She turned back to apologize to the bartender and found him smirking with amusement. He accepted the empty bucket from her and said nothing.

With no protest that might require Tia to furnish a tip, she turned her attention to joining the others in a race back to the beach.


Everyone was ready when the Shadow Wolf's departure time came. Given the circumstances, the entire crew was up in the bridge to watch as Cera slowly fired the engines and pushed them out of the dock. She followed Cardoso Station's traffic controllers with precision and brought the Shadow Wolf into position for her outbound course. "You know it's going t' take twice th' usual time t' burn out t' th' limit, right?" she asked.

"Well, we're carrying twice our usual mass," Henry said. "So yeah, I do. But we have the extra fuel we need to make our way to Torpan. Those extra crates of bacon will sell for a lot of credits when we get there."

"You mean the crates we had to stack in the rear holds and fit in around the fusion drive," Felix said. "I hope we don't have to go in there. It's freezing in there now."

"We'll see how it goes." Henry smiled at Felix's remark. He almost pointed out his friend was tempting fate but thought better of it. "Take us out, Cera."

"Takin' us out, Captain," she answered, after which she fired up the Shadow Wolf's main plasma drives and began their acceleration away from Lusitania.

"Take a good look, Samina," Piper said. "We may not be back for a long time."

"There are other planets out there, at least," Samina answered. There was an excitement in her voice. Henry had the feeling she enjoyed the trip planetside very much. "I can't wait to see Torpan. I've heard it's even bigger than Trinidad!"

"It is also far more dangerous," Yanik warned her.

It was Cera who provided the response. "That's what makes it so fun."

"Do not corrupt the child with a frivolous attitude toward danger," Yanik scolded her. "She must have an appreciation of what we face."

"Well, I kinda do," said Samina. "You know I'm legally an adult now, right?"

Yanik's tongue flickered. "Not by Saurian standards."

The banter continued, and Henry listened. He could order them back to their posts, and soon he would, but for now, he enjoyed their back and forth. It was a welcome reminder that they were one team, one crew… in many ways, a family. One he was responsible for. As much as it could sometimes annoy him, he was fine with the sentiment.

After all, you could put up with a lot for the sake of family.

Breach of Faith

The city of Armagh's spaceport bustled with activity. Ships to the independent worlds or deeper into Coalition space were departing at all times, it seemed, and travelers using Tyrone as a stopover were plentiful.

One such traveler stood on the concourse between various sets of terminals. Large holo-displays showed the approaching departure times, and destinations of dozens of ships. Canaan, New Arabia, New Connaught, the possible journey’s were numerous, some to local systems and others to the key systems of the Terran Coalition or Neutral Space. One entry showed a vessel, the Curtiba Meteor, heading to Brasilia.

Brasilia was supposed to be a beautiful world. The traveler could enjoy life there. Speak her native language. Find work she would love.

But for the woman once called Cristina Caetano, the choice felt hollow. She still had so much to do in the world. So many terrible acts to atone for.

And more to the point, she needed time. Time to figure herself out. She'd spent the better part of two decades living as someone else, crafting herself into the perfect exemplar of nationalist, fascist leadership. Now that she'd left her old identity behind, all she had left was the guilt of her deeds and the sorrow of her all-too-necessary exile. If she was to be someone else, she needed something more than the comfortable retirement CIS was offering.

So she turned away from the terminals. Left the concourse entirely, and the spaceport. A quick check with the Armagh Commerce Directory outside the spaceport building gave her a destination, and one short ride by automated taxi later, she was walking into a much different building. The glass doors were marked with an emblem of three round shapes on a dark blue field: the flag of the Interplanetary Spacers' Union.

She walked up to the front desk, where a smiling man said, "Good day, ma'am" with a Tyronian lilt. "What can I do for ye t'day?"

"My name is Cristina Maria Rodrigues e Silva," she said, the image of distant stars showing in her warm, sky-blue eyes. "And I'd like to become a spacer."


Breach of Faith: Book 3 - Breach of Duty:

When his past finally catches up to him, can Captain Henry save his crew and expose the truth? Find out now in Book 3.

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Also Available from Daniel Gibbs

Echoes of War

Book 1 - Fight the Good Fight

Book 2 - Strong and Courageous

Book 3 - So Fight I

Book 4 - Gates of Hell

Book 5 - Keep the Faith

Book 6 - Run the Gauntlet

Breach of Faith

(With Gary T. Stevens)

Book 1 - Breach of Peace

Book 2 - Breach of Faith

Book 3 - Breach of Duty

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From Daniel Gibbs -

I want to thank first and foremost, Gary – for dealing with me the last year as we worked through four novels worth of ideas and characters in the Breach of Faith series.

As always, there’s a small cast of folks out there that have helped me along the way – especially David VanDyke and his constant support and encouragement. To everyone else – you know who you are; thank you.

Finally, to the men and women of the US Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army, thank you for your service. It remains the highest privilege of my life to support you.

From Gary T. Stevens -

My thanks again to Dan Gibbs for giving me the leeway to write this story as I did and to introduce the new characters, species, and places seen in this book.

A thank you as well to the friends who tolerated my distraction from other creative projects while I was writing this novel.

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