Book: Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Breach of Trust

Breach of Faith Book Four

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

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53


Also Available from Daniel Gibbs

Free Daniel Gibbs Books


Breach of Trust by Daniel Gibbs and Gary T. Stevens

Copyright © 2020 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

Book 7 - Finish the Fight

Breach of Faith

(With Gary T. Stevens)

Book 1 - Breach of Peace

Book 2 - Breach of Faith

Book 3 - Breach of Duty

Book 4 - Breach of Trust

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four



Hestia, Independent Space

19 October 2546

Sixteen Years Ago

The roar of weapons fire and the repeating rhythm of mortar blasts echoed through the air. Smoke clouds from lit fires and burning buildings billowed into the skyline of Thyssenbourg. The battles engulfing the capital city of Hestia seemed poised to burn the entire place down.

Tia Nguyen's concerns weren't for the city but for her cell. They were outnumbered and confined to their position in a company retail store. Fallen shelving acted as barricades and defensive cover from the weapons fire coming into the building.

The fierce fighting's effect was clear on the appearance of her people, exhausted and wounded. She had been fortunate so far. Her only wound was a small cut that tore the material from her urban camo suit's shoulder, creating a mark of angry red on her olive-yellow skin.

The same couldn't be said for her friend Linh Khánh. Tia's hands were sticky with Linh's blood as she finished tying the tourniquet around the stump that remained of Linh's right arm. Linh's face, usually a shade darker than Tia's skin tone, was pale. Her expression twisted from pain.

"Comrade Tia!" The high-pitched voice of Ngoc Soun drew her attention to the teenage fighter, the youngest in her cell. He indicated the commlink set, one of many provided to them by the League of Sol. "Comrade Guillaume and Comrade Thaksin are no longer transmitting!" Panic was evident in his voice.

She felt a stab of worry for her uncle, Guillaume, but even greater concern for their cause. Everything was going wrong. The megacorps' security forces weren't supposed to be in the city in such force, at least according to their best intel. Their carefully-planned revolution was falling apart, and nobody knew why.

Tia heard a clatter nearby and turned in time to see a grenade clink off a shelf and roll toward her and the others. With only seconds to act, Tia leaned over and snatched the deadly device into her right hand. Without even winding her arm up, she lobbed the grenade back toward their enemies. She only had enough time to duck back down before it exploded, raining fragments of metal on the turned-over retail shelving.

From the entrance of the store came a brief electronic squawk. A male voice spoke with an off-worlder accent. "You have no route of escape. Surrender immediately."

Tia cupped her hands and screamed, "Go to hell!" at the top of her voice. The fury in her heart matched her defiant words. We've been their slaves for long enough! We will be free!

The enemy replied with bullets. Tia peeked over her cover and saw figures in tactical gear moving forward with heavy weapons, their outfits marked with the stylized emblem of Rigault Corporate Security. The enemy was making their push.

Tia picked up her rifle, a League-provided charged plasma model. "Here they come, comrades!" she shouted while setting her weapon's barrel on the shelf. She squeezed the trigger. The gun converted gas into plasma rapidly, creating a stream of plasma bursts that acted like solid-matter bullets. They tore through armor and burnt the flesh within.

The others joined her for what looked to be their last stand. Their fire was not always accurate, nor did it need to be at the shortening range. Corporate troops fell in their advance, one by one.

But there were more.

The enemy swarmed over their barriers, and it became a free-for-all. Tia's comrades might have yet fled, but none would abandon their friends to do so. The whole unit fought in their places, shooting and using their weapons as clubs when necessary.

Tia did the same. She shot a man scrambling over the shelving in front of her, taking him point blank between the eyes. As he fell dead, his buddy came up on her side. She brought the rifle over toward him and fired, but missed as he ducked under the barrel. She fell back to avoid his bayonet, which left another cut on her instead of stabbing her through the collarbone. The extra room allowed her to squeeze the trigger once more and put the man down.

Cries, screams, and shouts filled the air, from comrade and foe alike. Tia fired again and again, draining her rifle down to its last wisps of gas, constantly moving with the fight. The battle became unreal to her senses. Everything was running as if it were a holovid, not bloody real-life warfare.

A familiar voice broke into an agonized scream. Ngoc fell, a bayonet buried into his gut by a large man. There was a burst of flame, and a bullet tore through the young man's chest. His body fell to the ground, lifeless.

Tia's gun swept over before Ngoc's killer could change target. Plasma seared through the man's hip and arm until he fell over with a strangled cry.

A hot pain came to Tia's side, where strips of metal tore through fabric and flesh. She whirled around to find an enemy soldier's flechette shotgun aiming for her head.

Another plasma shot filled the air. The soldier's head flash-fried, and he fell over.

Linh's remaining arm was holding up her rifle. She drew in a hard breath and tried to smile at Tia. "Always watch your back, Comrade," Linh admonished her weakly.

"Thank you." Tia's abused ears heard only distant combat sounds. We got them all. We won! Her heart lifted with the victory. She turned to congratulate her comrades on the well-fought battle.

She found only corpses.

Ngoc, dead from the bayonet and gunshot wounds. Quang was on his belly, his eyes staring vacantly at the ground while some smoke still rose from the shots to his back and head. Thuần lay beside Mathilde; the dear lovers were fighting back to back when their end came. Nhung's hands still clasped his rifle, with his bayonet plunged into a Rigault trooper's heart just as said trooper's bayonet was in his. Kanda's eyes remained wide with disbelief and fear, and a face that Tia long associated with sweet smiles and good humor was marred by blackened flesh. Other wounds showed on her body; she had not died quickly.

All gone. Her heart started to still. My entire cell.


Linh's warning came just in time. The man who'd killed Ngoc was reaching for his hip. Tia rushed up to him and slammed his face with the butt of her rifle to stun him. His hand released its grip on the pistol he'd been drawing.

Tia bent down and picked up the weapon. It was a Rigault Heavy Industries plasma assault pistol, and not an ordinary model. The stock had the fine texturing and coloring of finished wood while the plasma charging chamber glowed softly with blue light. This was not a subtle weapon, nor a cheap one. She turned it and found the stylized R of the company etched on the butt, another irregular feature.

A low chuckle brought her attention to the gun's owner. The man was still conscious. He was a man of African descent, built powerfully, and his deep blue eyes glinted viciously at her as they met the storm-gray of her own eyes. "You haven't won," he said, a sneer forming on his mouth. His foreign accent was French in tone. Tia guessed he was New Gabonese. Maybe even a Rigault himself.

He continued speaking. "In fact, you've already lost, Hestian. You and your little revolution are dead. Give it up already."

"We haven't lost yet," she insisted. She brought the pistol up and pulled the trigger.

The blast seared through the man's right eye. His head fell back, and Tia saw no further movement.

She turned back to her dead comrades and Linh, who remained on her knees, pale and hurting from her lost arm and other wounds. The grief came in a great wave, crashing through instinctive disbelief to smother her senses. The tears flowed freely from her eyes at all of the memories of times that they wouldn't share again.

An electronic tone came from Ngoc's body, forcing her out back to her surroundings. She went over to him and pulled the cell's radio set from his belt. "Who is this?" she asked.

"Felipe," came the answer.

Tia breathed in relief. "Comrade Felipe. You are alive."

"Barely. They ambushed us as we came through the park. They had our route mined. Mined, Tia! We were betrayed!"

Grief and fury warred for their place in her heart, adding to Tia's frustration. How did they know?! Who betrayed our cause?! "Most of the cell is gone," she informed him. "Only Linh and I survive, and Linh is hurt. Have you heard from the party leaders?"

"Comrade Guillaume and Comrade Thaksin have been captured. Our headquarters was overrun half an hour ago. We… " His voice choked up. "Comrade, the battle is over. We've lost. They were waiting for us; they knew everything. We have to flee."

"Where? Flee where?" she demanded. "They will hunt us throughout the countryside, and any who give us shelter will suffer! If we stay and fight, maybe—"

"If we stay and fight, we are captured! Some of us must escape, Comrade, to become the kernel of a reborn movement!" Felipe's voice grew in pitch, booming over the line. "Comrade Raymundo's cell took a ship from the spaceport. If we run now, we should be able to get out to the L5 point and jump before they get us. We can find shelter with the League, or other systems, and plan our return!"

"I am not fleeing!" Tia insisted. Fury started to win out over the grief. "Our comrades died for this chance, Felipe! We've put years of work into this! All of our hopes for freedom! We can't just run!"

"We have to, dammit! Or all hope for liberation dies with us! Think of what it will do to the liberation movement if we are all killed or captured!"

Tia knew full well what he meant. The mega-corps' usual humiliations for strikers and industrial saboteurs would be amplified. They would be marched through the streets of each town, publicly beaten, likely whipped, held up to forced ridicule, eventually sent to labor camps or executed… it all depended on how sadistic and vicious the Hestian Business Council's Security Directorate decided to get, and they were quite capable of the worst.

Tia's eyes met Linh's. Looking at her friend and her condition clinched it. She frowned and thought she might crush the radio with her grip. "We're on our way."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Millerton Colony Resocialization Camp

Millerton, League of Sol

18 November 2558

Five Years Ago

The teal-clad orderlies were big men. One had the coppery tone and long dark hair of a Pacific Islander, the other was Caucasian with reddish hair. Their size allowed them to easily push along the gurney, and their presence was mostly due to the defiant figure chained to it.

From his place in the lab, Doctor Oskar Kiderlein's eyes went to the woman on the gurney. Her dark skin and facial structure were African, and in her curses, he heard the Anglo-African accent of the colonists assigned to the Millerton Colony by the Colonial Settlement Bureau. Her head was shaved completely. She was either a new prisoner at the resocialization camp or a repeat offender vexing the Social Defense authorities.

Given her presence and behavior, Oskar surmised it was the latter. He surprised himself with the surge of pride he felt at that defiance. The idea of being proud of anti-social behavior was in itself anti-social, and something he'd been raised to avoid and despise. How much things have changed.

The woman's eyes glared hatefully at Oskar's colleague, Dr. Jan Breivik. Oskar looked to the man with the mixed feelings of affection and disgust that his old friend now stirred up in him. Breivik was looking over a digital tablet with the woman's record on it while the first orderly read from a file. "Brigitte Tam'si. Repeated anti-social behavior. Actively resists resocialization despite repeated examinations and rehabilitative attempts."

"Stuff all that!" the woman cried. "I won't be your good little drone! No more! Shock me and hit me all you want!" With the look in her eye and the way her voice sounded, Oskar figured she was already giving herself up for dead. This was the courage of someone who'd already suffered the worst and had nothing left to fear.

Breivik predictably ignored her. He spoke to the orderlies. "Thank you for your assistance. Please bring her over here and be on your way. You will be called when I am done."

The orderlies moved the gurney into the operating area and departed.

"I don't care what you do to me, I'm tired of it! Just finish it already!"

Oskar took a breath and stepped toward them. He knew how this would go.

"Oskar." Breivik glanced in his direction. "I know how you feel about this, my friend, but it will be the start of a better Society, I promise," he said, his tone one Oskar knew to intend reassurance. "Would you mind getting the anesthetic? It will make this easier."

"Of course." Oskar casually went over to the table and picked up the anesthetic aero-injector. He considered the item in his hand and his coming actions. Once he started, he couldn't afford to stop or give up. He would be an enemy of Society, and the defenders of Society would show no mercy.

The thought chilled him, but with that chill came a strange excitement. He was really going to do this. He was going to act, not just think. After all the terrible things he'd seen, he was finally going to do something about it.

I'm sorry, Jan.

He walked up as Breivik prepared the scalpels. On his second tray, a single small object, the size of Oskar's thumb, was ready in its case. "The implantation procedure will be a tricky one. I'm concerned with—"

Oskar's hand came up. The aero-injector pressed against Breivik's carotid artery. He looked at Oskar with utter confusion before his eyes rolled upward, and he collapsed.

Brigitte saw it all. "And what's this?' she demanded.

"Shh." Oskar released the straps holding her chains in place, freeing her. "We have little time and much to do."

"What are you babbling about?"

"Our escape," he said. "From this camp, from the world. From the League."

She stared as if faced with a madman.

It was a fitting look, as she was treated to the sight of Oskar's next act: a rampage.

He grabbed a hammer from the table and brought it down on the second tray. The plastic case around Breivik's implant cracked. The second blow finished breaking it open, and the third smashed the implant itself. With this act of destruction done, he turned on other instruments and items in the lab, smashing and destroying with a purpose. He brought out a gun from his waist holster and fired several shots into a computer terminal.

"Are you going to kill him?" Brigitte asked, indicating Breivik.

Oskar shook his head. "I'm a doctor," he said. "I don't kill." He indicated the gurney and grabbed a blanket from another table. "Come here. I'll get you out."

A moment passed between the two. Oskar saw the cynicism in her eyes. He imagined the thoughts that must be going through her mind. Why would this doctor be willing to throw away his life for her?

He watched her face change expressions as that emotion gave way to a hope she'd never dared to feel, if just to avoid the eventual despair of dashed hopes.

"I'm dead either way," she said. She lay back on the gurney. "Might as well see how this goes."

"Stay quiet," he urged before putting the blanket over her. "And don't dare breathe when they look at you."

She nodded in the moment before he pulled the blanket up over her face.

Oskar pushed the stretcher out, leaving Breivik to the ransacked lab. All that remained were the digital backups, and he'd already replaced them, overwriting the data with a message for his old friend to see later. Perhaps, even if I fail, I may win in the end regardless, he thought, hoping his words might persuade Breivik whether or not he escaped.

The guards met him outside the door. "Doctor Kiderlein?" one asked. "Is that the subject?"

"Yes. I'm afraid there was a complication in the operation. She didn't survive," he said.

"We'll take her from here, sir," the other said. "We have to do a full forensic examination for the file, make sure she wasn't hiding contraband."

"I'll have her delivered to you, but it is vitally important to the project that I give her an autopsy, and I can't do that in the lab. The conditions and tools aren't right."

"Alright. Do we have the orderlies send another one in?"

"No, not until I'm done," Oskar insisted. "Doctor Breivik has a lot of material to study before we try again." He kept his voice from feeling the full scope of his situation. That might make him seem too frustrated to them, and thus suspicious. This was meant to be just the usual behavior guards were used to.

He didn't let himself sigh when they nodded and let him go on. On to the infirmary and the ambulance, and the spaceport after that.

And from there, who knew where else?


The dome that protected the mining community of Allentown Station loomed over the heads of the Shadow Wolf crew as they watched the local dock workers bring the crates of fresh fruit, vegetables, and cryo-preserved meat out of the front holds. From the upper catwalk of the holds, Tia Nguyen, First Mate of the ship, watched the operation while looking over the expense account for the ship. She noted the result of the unloading fee on their margins. A satisfied grin crossed her lips at the resulting figure.

Once, the crew had handled such loading and offloading themselves. The loading and unloading costs at many spaceports inspired such extra labor in independent operations like theirs. But the cash reserves for the ship were greater these days. The jobs they obtained from Neutral Space and the Terran Coalition were practically raining money into their coffers. The peace between the Coalition and the League of Sol, as controversial as it was inside the Coalition itself, heralded an economic boom across Sagittarius as war-time trade regulations fell away. With so much money available, giving the crew down-time for their entire stay on the station was worth every cent.

"I still believe this a needless expense." At her side, Yanik S'srish, the ship's Second Mate, crossed his thick arms. Yanik was large even by Saurian standards, and unlike most Saurians they met, he had a tail the same blue tone as the rest of his scaled skin. His yellow eyes blinked intermittently. "We are quite capable of an offload like this."

"We are, but it's a lot of work, and we're still short-handed as a crew," Tia noted.

"The Captain has not agreed to another hire?"

"He's still looking at the candidates," she answered, although she didn't quite hide her uncertainty on the matter. Everything here is wrong when Jim is the least dependable member of the crew, she thought. "At least we have an official Third Mate again."

Their eyes looked down at the figure of Miri Gaon, currently holding up her own data tablet to keep track of inventory. "For a former Coalition super-spy, she's a pretty good spacer," Tia said. "We just need to fill out the crew roster and everything, well, almost everything will be running smoothly."

Yanik's tongue flicked in the air. He was annoyed. "You speak of the Captain's morale."

She nodded. "I do."

"In time, his spirit will recover."

"I hope."

Tia descended from the upper catwalk to the lower. The last crates were out. Now everyone gathered around Miri. Cera McGinty, the ship's skilled—and daredevil—pilot, spoke up first. "Not much t' do on this rock, but there's got t' be a bar or three," she called out. "Everythin' good?"

"The manifest and inventory matched up, and the receipt has been filed," Miri said. Since joining the crew, she'd let the Hebrew accent slip back into her voice.

The next voice was the ship's Engineer, who spoke with the Dutch accent of New Oranje, homeworld of Boer colonists that set out from Earth right after the Exodus. "I've shut down all the cores. We're running off the station’s power." Pieter Herzog's sandy blond hair was joined by the faint wisps of a beard and mustache of the same color.

"We're getting atmosphere from them too," offered his subordinate. Samina Khan, still not out of her teens but getting there, had the copper-brown skin tone of someone descended from the Indian Subcontinent. "Intake valves are set, so we'll top off our tanks while we're on the station atmo."

"It sounds like you've got everything ready," Tia said. "Doctor, anything you've heard about the station on the medical links? Epidemics or such? Issues with the water supply?"

"No." Oskar shook his head. "Everything is fine. The station is well-kept."

"Then, yeah, you're all released," Tia said to the assembled crew. "Just remember your watch rotations, and I expect to see you all back here in the morning!"

"About time!" Cera took off for the hold exit. She was followed by the ship's Astrogator, Piper Lopez, and Oskar's fellow League defector Brigitte.

There was a chuckle from Oskar, shared with Miri. "I think I will take a walk around the station," Oskar remarked. "But I'll likely return long before the morning."

Soon Tia was left with Yanik and Miri, who went up the stairs to join them on the catwalk. "I'll take the first overwatch," Miri offered them.

"That's kind of you." Tia's eyes glanced back toward the empty hold. "Honestly, I could use a drink myself now."

A skeptical look appeared on Miri's face. "You're worried about Captain Henry."

"With his name cleared, and all the money we're bringing in, he shouldn't be looking to drown his sorrows in whiskey."

"There's more to it than that," Miri pointed out. "You don't heal a soul quickly or easily. He needs more time."

"And he'll get it, but that doesn't mean I ignore what's going on." Tia returned her digital tablet to her spacer jacket's left side pocket. "He's the Captain of this ship, and everyone can tell he's not doing well. It's going to affect morale before long."

"You're right. But I don't think either of us can fix that."

"Maybe not, but I'm damn well going to try."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Allentown did enough business that no less than three bars existed to cater to the dock workers and the spacers. Tia walked into one labeled McCarter's and spotted Henry's telltale brown spacer's jacket up at the bar. She walked up and slid onto a stool beside him. The bartender, a pale-skinned woman with wheat-colored hair and freckles on her cheeks, approached while cleaning a glass with her apron. "What'll it be?"

Tia retrieved Interstellar Bank credit banknotes from her jacket. "Thanh," she said, glancing toward Henry. The glass in his hand was half full of an amber-toned brown liquid. Whiskey, she was certain, either Scotch or bourbon.

The bartender retrieved a bottle of her own favored poison from the shelf. Given the look of the bottle, Tia figured it'd been up there for a while. Thanh was an acquired taste. For her, it tasted of home. The bartender poured some in a glass. "Want a Special?"

"Not today." Tia accepted the glass of light brownish drink. She tipped some in and enjoyed the taste even as it burned its way through her mouth and throat. "Good stuff," she said.

"Come out to have a drink with me?" Henry asked. His voice was cold.

"Among other things," Tia said. She took another drink and felt the rice liquor of her homeworld burn its way into her stomach again. "Jim, you can't keep going on like this."

"Hrm?" He glanced toward her again before returning to his drink. "Going on like what?"

"Like your life is over. Like all you're waiting for is the grave." Tia's eyes fixed on him. Henry's dark skin glinted slightly with sweat, given the heat of the bar. She could see the tightness around his eyes and mouth, the crease in his brow. Years of tight living keeping his ship flying, of working outside the law if necessary; they showed on that face. "Things are better for us now. The best we've had."


"That's it? 'Oh'?" Irritation crept into her voice. She didn't quite succeed in forcing it out. "Compared to where we were a couple years ago, it's no contest. The League's hounds have backed off ever since we helped bring down Erhart. That import/export license Ostrovsky got you gave us access to good-paying, low-fuss jobs. No more smuggling, no more shady deals. Just enough money to always hire loaders and afford a full complement for the ship, if you'd ever approve the hires." Tia's expression turned sardonic. "Oh, right, and you're also a war hero and good guy again in the Terran Coalition." She took a quick drink. "Sounds to me like things to be happy over."

Henry held up his right hand. "You forgot about my uncle being dead, my best friend turning out to be a spy sent to keep an eye on us, and that my ship is slowly falling apart."

Tia turned her attention back to her drink for the moment. "I miss Charlie too," she admitted. "I miss the stubborn pride and the way he cared about people, not economics."

Henry's answer came only in the mournful gleam in his dark eyes.

That brought to her mind the other blow he suffered. "You can't blame yourself for Felix. He tricked all of us," she insisted. "He used your friendship to benefit his bosses."

"He also kept Ostrovsky from having me listed as a threat," Henry murmured. "He protected me from CDF Intel."

"For his own purposes," she insisted. "You have every right to be angry with him."

"I do, but that doesn't mean I don't want to forgive him."

He doesn't deserve it, Tia pondered. Not that she was an objective observer when it came to Colonel Felix Rothbard. They'd never gotten along.

Henry finished his glass and got another. "I know you never felt comfortable around him, and that's fine. The Rothbard family has always been a bunch of pains in the ass. But he was still my friend, and I know he wanted forgiveness. Maybe even earned it, breaking cover like he did and helping us stop Erhart." He took a drink and smacked the glass down onto the bar. "But I couldn't do it. It hurt so damn bad."

"A lot of things hurt. You shouldn't blame yourself for feeling it."

He grunted.

Through it all, the final item on that list loomed. "You know, we're earning so good, we could probably replace the Shadow Wolf even before she's no longer space-worthy." Tia kept a careful eye on his face while speaking. "There are some good transports out there. The new Holden-Nagata Mark IX's out, eight holds now."

The flesh around Henry's eyes tightened further. He turned his head away from her.

Smart move, Tia. It's not just about losing a ship. It's the ship. "Uncle Charlie bought that ship with you. He helped you repair it and make it space-worthy again," she recalled. "It gave you a purpose in your life after the CDF cashiered you. So losing it… it'll be like losing your final connection to Charlie. You lose the Shadow Wolf, you lose Charlie. Is that it?"

He nodded. In a single movement, he emptied the last of his remaining drink into his mouth and returned the tumbler to the bar. He pulled a small collection of banknotes out and left them under the glass.


She received no answer. He walked out.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The haze of whiskey settled into Jim Henry's mind. His thoughts and movements slowed. It took effort not to sway as he walked down the sidewalk toward the spaceport and his bed on the ship.

At a deep level, he knew he was being foolish. His life wasn't over, not this time. Tia was right in that he could afford another ship. He could keep flying. He was even something of a hero back home for his role in taking down General Erhart, although the full story was very highly classified. His life, in short, was far better than it'd been a year ago.

But the pain was still there. The grief of losing Uncle Charlie. Learning of Felix's deceit.

Being the coward who surrendered to Erhart in the first place.

There was a strangled cry nearby. Henry's eyes panned to his right. His mind took an extra moment to confirm the loud plea of "Mercy," or to process the sight of two men beating on a third. They looked like criminal roughs, thugs who made their living taking from others, while their victim was still in a miner's jumpsuit. A boot firmly pressed on his face, accompanied by the demand, "Where's our money?"

Henry's right hand slipped down toward his hip, and the holster holding his personal sidearm.

One of the thugs turned. His eyes narrowed at seeing Henry. His hand slipped into his jacket to retrieve a weapon, likely a knife or blade of some kind. His face, marked with a dark-haired goatee and thin mustache, twisted into a vicious snarl. The injection nodule on his temple stood out, marking him a neuro-stim user. "What're you lookin' at?!" he demanded in a rough tone. "Mind your own business, spacer!"

For a moment, Henry considered letting his hand keep going down. All he had to do was pull his gun. The sight of his Danfield-Colt CP-2520, with its charge chamber resembling the cylinder of an old revolver, would certainly intimidate the thug. He and his buddy would leave the miner alone.

His hand came back up. "Nothing," he mumbled, turning away.

The thug, content, returned his attention to his victim.

The miner's cries followed Henry as he walked down the road. The weight of the guilt grew with each sound of a blow landing, each cry of pain and plea for mercy, for help, for someone to do something.

There's nothing you can do. You're almost drunk. You'd just get yourself or someone killed, he told himself. Even if you stopped them now, they'd just come back and beat him even worse once you weren't around. If you shot them dead, their buddies would come after him, or you, or your crew.

The excuses couldn't lever the guilt off, even after the beating grew distant enough he couldn't hear it anymore.

A bitter thought came to him. Jim Henry, you're a coward.

I can't fix the galaxy, he replied to himself. I'd only get myself and my crew killed trying.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Allentown Station didn't have anything in the way of a tourist industry. The mines were the only reason it existed, and its only visitors were related to those mines or the businesses that supported the miners.

As such, there were only a few hotels on the station, struggling desperately to attract enough business to survive. Their desperation was such that they couldn't afford to ask questions about their clientele.

That was to the benefit of the man now looking out at the mining station and the dome above it. He preferred people not asking questions about his business. It reduced complications.

He closed the blinds and sat at the table. With one hand, he took up a wicked, curved blade, and with the other, he picked up a gray-toned grindstone. He worked the blade over the grindstone, re-honing the edge to once again easily pierce the flesh of his marks. The occasional spark flew due to the vigor at which he worked. His mind filled with longing to plunge the weapon into flesh once more, but as always, his urges had no place in his work.

His personal link lit up. He set the grindstone down and tapped it. A holographic image popped up. Recognizing his employer, he started the conversation by saying, "Kepper here."

"I received your call. Full payment has been made to your account, Mister Kepper," the suited man said. The French tones in his accent were Francophone African, New Gabonese, matching the ebon shade of his skin. His left eye glittered like a sapphire stone, but the real light was in his right eye, a cybernetic implant that shined blue. "When are you taking the mark?"

"Tomorrow," Allan Kepper answered. "She'll be the hardest one yet, but don't worry, Mister Rigault. You'll get your money's worth." A self-assured grin crossed his lips. "I haven't let you down yet, have I?"


Tia began the next day with the mild headache of a slight hangover. She was grateful that they had a connection to the Allentown Station water reservoirs, allowing her the comfort of a quick shower in the ship's washroom as part of her daily routine when allowed.

Her commlink beeped while she dried herself off. She pulled on the lower half of her jumpsuit before reaching over to tap the receive key. "Tia here," she said.

"Tia." The female voice on the other end was full of relief. "I was worried about you."

Tia finished pulling the jumpsuit on and turned toward the link. A holographic projection showed a screen. Her old comrade Linh Khánh filled the screen. Now a senior engineer and dockmaster of the Trinidad Station Dockworkers' Guild, they remained fellow exiles committed to overthrowing the megacorp-ruled oligarchy that oppressed their homeworld.

In response to Linh's worry, Tia asked, "What's wrong? What's happened?"

"Comrade Viên is dead."

Tia plopped down on the nearby changing bench. Her eyes lowered. Disbelief quickly gave way to grief. "What happened? Wasn't he on New Aragon serving in the Interstellar Association of Trade Unions' Planning Committee?"

Linh nodded. "The local authorities found him in Balaguer after responding to a call about a mugging. From what I've learned, they're treating it as a local crime that got out of hand."

Tia shook her head. "Viên wouldn't have been killed so easily by a street mugger."

"Now you know why I'm worried. Viên, Sandra, Camille, Michel. All dead in the last six months. You and I are the only ones from the senior cadre left who haven't signed that damn amnesty."

Tia heard the suspicion in Linh's voice. "You think it's a plot?"

"It can't be coincidence."

"I fear you're right." Tia drew in a breath and tried to think about what it all could mean. Over the past decade, the mega-corporations of the Hestian Business Council mostly ignored the exiles. Those who signed the amnesty—and the attendant loyalty oath to the HBC-run republic—were let back onto Hestia without difficulties. Those who refused to sign were only pursued if they ventured where the HBC's members held sway.

If that had changed… why?

Remembering her old friend and her worry, Tia tried to reassure her. "You're in more danger than I, Linh. I'm a moving target for them; you're not."

"I understand that. And I've taken precautions. But I wanted to make sure you were too. Be careful at your ports of call."

"I will," Tia promised. "Check in daily?"

"Yes, and we'll use the new code words. Just in case."

"Agreed. Stay safe, Comrade Linh."

"Stay safe, Comrade Tia."

Tia reached over and tapped the holographic icon to end the call. She watched her old friend's image disappear with a heavy heart. Her mind kept flashing back to Viên Huỳnh. He'd been among the fighters who gave cover fire to her and Linh when she was carrying Linh to the evacuation ship after the Uprising failed. He'd helped to save their lives.

And now he was gone. Another comrade dead. And her people still so far from the liberation she longed to see. Will we ever be free? she wondered to herself, trying to fight back the despairing thought that they were doomed to be the slaves of the megacorps from now until the end of time.

A glance at her link made her push those thoughts away. They'd know soon about having another load and she needed to be ready if the call came.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

While the rest of the crew waited for word on their next load, Miri returned to her quarters upon receipt of a GalNet-relayed message. She activated her personal comp unit and sat beside it, waiting for it to display the message.

The header was from some minor GalNet site. It was a code to cover for her contact, Colonel Abdul Rahman al-Lahim of the Coalition Intelligence Service, who kept in touch even as he was now chief of station for Gilead. It was a regular communication to keep her up to speed on a certain subject.

The message brought disappointment. No sightings or reports concerning Subject Kepper. RUMINT hints that he's found a full-time client, but we've yet to find any clue of who that might be. League External Security still offering a bounty on his head. Will inform you if any changes learned.—Al-Lahim

Miri shut the screen down. Kepper's name brought to mind her own sense of guilt. He'd hunted her on Harron two years ago, during the lead-up to the Lusitanian Crisis. Not only had he nearly caught her, he'd murdered an innocent being in the effort.

Thinking of Vasily brought to mind the Harr'al, a freed slave who converted to the Russian Old-Rite Church of his liberators. She remembered the rubbery face, the green eyes set so widely apart on a round face, and the kindness that always showed. A kindness that resulted in his murder at Kepper's hands.

I will find him one day. Adonai knows I will see justice done for Vasily.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The dome protecting Allentown Station's residents from the airless void beyond was a construct of great size, square kilometers worth of specialized alloys and ceramics to maintain a solid atmospheric seal. Barely visible from the ground, if at all, were the catwalks and structures that allowed for dome workers to check for atmospheric leaks, damage, or any other issue.

An anti-grav skimmer marked as station property pulled up to one such area. Its occupant, clad in the jumpsuit of a dome worker for the station, stepped off the skimmer and reached back in for the spherical device he'd brought with him. The top and bottom of the sphere had flat surfaces for easier grips, allowing him to carry the device right up to the dome wall itself.

Once at his destination, Kepper set up the device. It was methodical work that inspired an uptick in his heart rate at the prospect of a mistake or being found out.

Piece by piece, everything was readied. The anti-tampering mechanisms went last. Within twenty minutes, he had a fully-functional device in place.

Satisfied by his work, Kepper returned to the skimmer and set it to return to the pool. With everything in place, it was time to begin.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Shadow Wolf medbay was as well-stocked as it'd ever been. The materials "borrowed" from a Coalition "Masada" fallback base joined the medical supplies more easily purchased inside of Coalition space to give Oskar more options than he'd known in his prior years of serving aboard the Shadow Wolf.

Brigitte, his fellow escapee, slid off the bed with a grin. A head of hair once shaved down to nothing instead had a purple-dyed mohawk along the center, sticking upward, joined by arranged cornrows of the same color. It was a colorful and fiercely individual display that spoke to Brigitte's character.

Of greater importance to Oskar was her health, where the readings were welcome. A few old wounds and injuries from gunfights were long healed and she was internally healthy.

"So clean bill of health, Doctor?" Brigitte asked, although it was clear from the grin she knew the answer.

"Yes, a 'clean bill'," he answered.

"Good. Now I'd better see to that ore loading. We're supposed to get a big load today."

He nodded in acknowledgement and watched her leave. Once the door was shut, he turned to his other patient.

Yanik waited on another bed. Oskar got to work, using a variety of scans and visual examinations to judge the Saurian's health. Nearly five years of practice with Saurian physiology went into the examination.

"There is still damage," Yanik said in a low hiss. "I can feel it."

Oskar nodded quietly while checking his scans. "Your tail is still recovering the lost tissue from getting shot at the Exodus Station. And your body continues healing several other wounds." He made a note in his log. "Your species physiology surprises me. Normally, you heal faster than humans, but now your body's natural healing process is actually a little slower in several cases. From exhaustion, I would guess."

A low hiss came from Yanik's mouth. His tongue flicked the air. "It will mend with time."

"I expect so. But you should remember, you're not as young as you once were, my friend. Take it easy while you heal, and you'll be as good as ever." He let a reassuring smile cross his lips as a means to reassure the Saurian.

Yanik's yellow reptilian eyes became distant. "We shall see," he remarked. "Regardless, I will continue to do my duties and fulfill my obligations to the crew. Is your examination complete?'

Oskar shook his head while running a couple of scans. "Now it is," he said.

"Then I must see to the ore." Yanik's tongue flicked the air, as if to taste it. "Thank you for your attention, Doctor. Your efforts are welcome."

"Thank you." Oskar watched Yanik depart with a tinge of sadness. He could see the pain in the Saurian and thought he understood it.

A few more months of peace and quiet will help, Oskar thought to himself. Let his body finish healing, and his spirit will heal with it.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The news from Doctor Kiderlein was not unexpected to Yanik, but neither was it welcome. It left him unsettled enough that he went to his quarters and sat on his cot. He started reciting prayers to settle his mind, the prayers promising to uphold his obligations, his krassha.

His prayers were interrupted by a knock at the door. Out of curiosity more than anything, Yanik ordered the door to open.

Vidia Andrews walked in. He was fairly-sized, for a human male, with long dark hair and a forming beard. His skin tone was similar to Captain Henry's, though the men came from different planets and even spoke differently. "I wanted ta see how ya did with the checkup."

"It was as expected." Yanik turned his head toward Vidia, establishing eye contact as humans preferred. "My injuries are still healing. My body has exhausted itself in the effort, delaying my healing."

"Ya usually heal faster. Is everythin' okay?"

"It is as it is," Yanik hissed slowly. "I am gaining in years, Vidia. My body is more easily exhausted and overtaxed by my efforts. The day will come soon when I can no longer fight, and for that, I am sorry."

"I understand ya feel obligated ta fight for us so often, but certainly ya don't think God demands ya do nothin' but fight?"

"There are other means to uphold krassha, yes. But they involve certain duties. Many of them would require me to return home."

"Ah." Vidia nodded. "I understand."

"No, you do not." Yanik said those words calmly, not intending to give offense. He appreciated Vidia as a compatriot. But he found, all too often, that few non-Saurians understood what it was like for him to be the exile he was. To never see the home he knew as a child, to be denied the communal rites of the Krasshash. All to uphold the principles of his faith and to deny his service to a government that denied those principles.

Oh, the Saurian Empire tolerated the Krasshash. Some of the best soldiers in the Empire's regiments were his co-religionists. But the Emperor and his advisors broke their obligations to the Terrans when they failed to come to the Coalition's aid upon the first League attack. Indeed, some sought to use the war to leverage desired star systems for the Empire. It was gross ingratitude that spat on Krasshash principles, and he could not in good faith serve the Empire when it was betraying everything he believed. Even if it meant either exile or the death given to a convicted deserter or draft dodger.

"Maybe not everythin', but I understand enough. I understand a man standin' for his beliefs, even if he stands against the world." Vidia folded his arms. "Just as I understand not wantin' ta be a burden. That's what ya fear, isn't it?"

This time, Yanik hissed, "Yes." His clawed hands came together. "I have an obligation to Captain Henry and this crew, an obligation to protect. If I cannot protect, then I am a burden. I would rather go to the Divine than continue to live as an old cripple and burden those I am obligated towards."

"Obligation, it goes both ways. We have obligations ta care for ya, Yanik, an' ya shouldn't worry about that. Ya've earned it many times over."

Yanik said nothing in reply. He understood Vidia was trying to be kind, but it showed what he did not understand. A life of docility like he described, requiring others to meet his needs… he couldn't stomach the idea. He was Krasshash. To be Krasshash was to fulfill obligation, to uphold krassha. If he could not, he was unworthy of his faith and his people.

The conversation did at least perform the task of working Yanik through the issue. He stood from his cot. "There is ore to load," he said. "We should assist the others."

Vidia nodded. Without a word, he went for the door, with Yanik following.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Kepper walked to the side of the hangar building, as if quietly inspecting the ore crates that were to be loaded onto the ship within. He glanced back to his aircar before taking a final check of his weapons. His rifle was loaded with the right rounds and the grenades were in place on his belt. He knew from careful checking that the facemask hanging from his neck would provide the clean air he needed.

Yes, everything was ready. Time to get his mark.

He raised his link to his mouth. "Go in," he ordered. "Time to earn your pay."

"Goin' in," an accented voice replied.

Across the hangar, the armed gang appeared in the dock opening. Kepper got down on a knee and raised the rifle, waiting for his moment.


Crates of packed ores from the Allentown mines remained stacked around the hold ramps for the Shadow Wolf. Miri took a moment to double-check one of the stacks and compare the crate numbers with the manifest displayed on her link. The ore was a rich lump of titanium-47 that any number of resource refineries across Sagittarius could refine for the mineral.

She was checking the seal when Piper and Brigitte stepped up to her. "I think we may have a problem," Piper said warily.

Miri followed Piper's eyes toward a group of men entering the hangar. Given the weapons they wore openly on their suits, it wasn't hard to guess their affiliation or their purpose. Miri patted her hip to reassure herself of the presence of the new Burleigh & Armstrong charged particle pistol in her holster. Piper drew her own weapon, from the same manufacturer, and Brigitte reached for her plasma blaster. Miri motioned for them to stay behind the ore crates and call for backup before venturing out to face the interlopers.

The leader was a man with a thin mustache and goatee. On his forehead was an implant, a port for neural stims and other drugs meant to be fed directly into the brain, a piece of technology meant for certain medical conditions and repurposed to accommodate decidedly non-medical desires. She had to be careful, given the side effects of some of the drugs injected through such implants. "This is a privately-rented hangar," she said to them. "Can I ask your business?"

"Oh, it's a simple matter, little chick." The leader of the group chuckled. "My poor droogs are in need of an honest day's work, but they always get stiffed when offering their services. So we're being a little more assertive this time."

A shakedown, then. She wanted to sigh in exasperation. "We already have contracted loaders, so we have no work for you. Please leave."

"Now now, little chick, consider my droogs; they need to eat. Seeing as you didn't give us a shot at hirin' on, the least you can do is see to our bellies for the day, y'know what I'm saying?"

"I do," she said, although she felt like there was something off about it. She put ice in her words. "I know precisely what it is you want, and you're not getting it."

"You sure?" The look on one of the others turned into a leer. "Maybe company from you spacer chickies is what we really want."

The more they spoke, the more suspicious Miri felt. Gangs like this picked on people they could intimidate. Armed spacers under the very visible guns of their ship? That didn't fit. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "Why are you really hassling us?"

"Thought I made that clear."

Footsteps came from the ramp to the hold. Henry, Tia, and Yanik descended the ramp. Henry had the family rifle in hand, Tia's hand was on the pistol on her hip holster, and Yanik had the assault gun to round out the intimidating armament.

Fear and anger flickered through the eyes of the gang. Miri noted it with interest. "Captain, I was just telling these gentlemen they should be leaving."

The gang leader's eyes focused on Henry. "I remember you." He chuckled. "The drunk spacer from last night. You came awfully close to some violence, friend."

"Get the hell away from my ship," Henry growled.

"Alright, alright," the leader said, motioning for the gang to back off. It was not hard to do so, given the eyes focusing on Yanik's weapon.

Miri watched their retreat with unease. Something was very wrong...

There was a crack in the air. Blood and flesh erupted from Yanik's right shoulder. The Saurian shrieked in agony and dropped his weapon.

Miri went for her gun. So did everyone else. Before anything else could be said, a firefight broke out in the hangar.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Through the scope of a sniper rifle, Kepper observed the result of his explosive round with satisfaction. In one shot, he'd eliminated the Shadow Wolf crew's strongest ground combat asset. The rest of his plan would be easier for it.

Now that the sound of gunfire filled the hangar, Kepper slipped his sniper rifle back into his aircar. He returned to the hangar and began his careful approach to the rear of the ship.

The pulses and beams of energy weapon fire lit up the hangar. Blasts scorched the crates of ore regularly while both sides searched for cover behind them. Henry and Miri were flanking the wounded Saurian, who was trying to tend to his mutilated shoulder.

The firefight had both sides' full attention. Smiling faintly at his success, Kepper decided to get up close. He used the ship's slanted landing legs as cover and reached for his belt. One by one, he lobbed the smoke and gas grenades above and around the assorted crates. The chemicals triggered and a gray haze coalesced in the air.

Kepper pulled his facemask on and waited patiently for the gas and smoke to bring the entire battle into a confused state. The shooting nearly ceased because neither side could be sure of what was going on. Coughing and choking came from both groups.

Which meant his window was open.

Protected by his mask's breather unit, Kepper rushed in. The IR overlay on the eyepieces helped him identify everyone through the thick haze, and he could see the specific build and form of his mark. The smoke gave him cover on the approach. His hand reached into his vest pouch for the injector he'd placed there.

His mark's gun was up, swinging around while she coughed and stumbled to try and get out of the cloud of gas. He kept himself from facing the gun, weaving his way through the smoke in that pursuit.

The mark clearly heard his approach. "Jim! Miri! Are you there?!" she called out. Their voices responded, assuring Kepper that he still had his opening.

When he was in arm's reach, he slipped around the mark and brought his free left arm up to confine her left arm. She struggled against the grip and started to pull free when his right hand zipped up and pressed the injector to her neck. A low hiss came from her throat. She pulled away completely.

But it was too late. She barely took a free step before the sedative hit and she fell over, unconscious. Kepper leaned over and placed tie straps around her wrists and ankles before lifting her onto his shoulders. With professional satisfaction building, he rushed from the smoke with his captive and ran for the hangar exit.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Once the smoke and gas rose, Miri felt vindicated for her earlier concerns. This was bigger than a criminal gang looking for a score.

Such knowledge didn't help immediately, of course, not when she was choking and tearing up from the combination of inert smoke and tear gas. With her pistol in hand, Miri tried to get away and clear her vision. She heard Tia's distant call and shouted, "I'm over here!"

There was no reply. At least, not at first. After another half a minute, Cera's voice sounded over her link. "Some sassenach made off with Tia!"

That was what this was for, Miri realized. Despite her eyes stinging and watering, she finished pushing through the gas clouds. She found herself near the gang. Half of them were on their knees, debilitated by the gas as well. The other half were befuddled and uncertain. She had an opening.

She took it.

Miri dashed for the first one and quickly wrenched his gun from his hand. She twisted around another gang member and forced the gun from his hands as well. Her foot hooked under his feet and tripped him, toppling him onto his back.

On his belt was an activation key for a hoverbike. Miri snatched it up and rushed to the front door of the hangar. A collection of machines were just outside, the gang's means of arrival. She rushed to the group and used the key's activation button to bring one to life, jumping on it the moment she heard the engine start up. "Cera, did you see where he took her?!" she asked.

"Out the stern hangar door. Th' bastard had an aircar waitin'!"

"Help the others subdue the rest of the gang. I'm going after them!" Grabbing the handles with her gun still in one hand was awkward, but she managed the grip. She used the reverse function to pull the bike out from the others and turned it toward the roadways linking the hangars. A pull of the alternate throttle set the hoverbike racing forward.

They came through the other hangar. For a snatch job like this, they probably have a ship ready. Considering the layout of the hangars of the station, Miri turned her bike to the left through one of the linking paths between hangars. She emerged on the other road and swept her head in either direction. A visible aircar passed her eyes coming from the direction of their hangar. There he is. She turned the bike to intercept.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

One thing all professionals knew was that the job wasn't truly over until you and the mark were away from the site. Kepper lived by that rule.

His careful attention to his surroundings meant he saw the hoverbike rushing after him via his mirrors. The driver didn't have a helmet, showing the haste involved in the gesture, and Kepper immediately recognized Miriam Gaon as his pursuer. A sly grin came to his face. Might be the first time a former mark's chased me.

Without any warning, he switched his pistol to his left hand and pointed it out of the window. His finger tightened around the trigger and sent rounds at the hoverbike. A spark indicated he made a hit of some kind, but not enough to stop the vehicle.

One of Miri's hands briefly came up from the handlebars. Charged particle bursts flew through the air, nearly impacting on the aircar if not for Kepper's swerve to the right.

After the swerve, he checked toward his front again. An ore hauler truck was taking the crossroad ahead. He grinned and accelerated toward it. With all of the speed he mustered from the vehicle, he shot in front of the truck and rounded it. His speed carried him on to the next turn and he took it, eager to see if the pursuit continued. It'd been quite a while since he faced such fierce competition.

Yet it had to end before he got to his hangar. The timing of the extraction demanded it.

"Car, auto-drive," he said, and the car activated the auto-drive software at the verbal command. He reached down and pulled his grenade belt off. With a sweep of his hand, he pulled the trigger pins of each grenade before tossing the entire belt out of the window.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

At the sight of the ore truck, Miri veered the hoverbike to the left, evading the craft. She accelerated through the turn while keeping her forearm balanced on the handlebar should she get a shot from her sidearm.

No such shot materialized. Luck came to her side anyway, as she saw the aircar before it turned a corner. She followed, accelerating further to regain the lost ground, waiting for her opening to return fire once again. As the aircar swerved in front of her, she took a shot, trying to hit the air-thrust system that kept the vehicle aloft. The shot went wide and scorched the metal skin of the vehicle instead.

I wish one of the others was riding with me. I can't shoot straight while handling this thing. She considered just following until they got to the kidnapper's destination, but that could quickly turn against her if they had a waiting support team. I need to stop them!

She fired once, twice, and still managed no hits, but her aim was improving despite the awkwardness demanded by the hoverbike controls.

Objects flew from the car window. In one big burst, a large cloud of gas and smoke formed ahead of her. She veered to her left to avoid the cloud, but it was expanding too rapidly to be evaded in such a fashion. The smoke and gas entered her nose. She coughed harshly, trying to keep it from her lungs. A pang of frustration drew a slight snarl to her lips. I need to get through!

She realized her mistake just as she emerged from the cloud, and at her speed, it was too late to stop. Ahead of her was the aircar, now turned to the side and forming a barrier in the road. She hit the brake on the hoverbike just as the craft slammed into the aircar.

The impact sent her flying from the vehicle. With no helmet, she was in grave danger of a fatal head injury, and in mid-air, curled herself up to try and protect her head as much as she could. The maneuver worked, causing her to land on her side with her arm protecting her vulnerable head.

But nothing could prevent the impact from injuring her. The bone-jarring landing sent a vibrating ache through her body. She lost her grip on her gun while rolling to a stop. A low groan filled her throat. It took a lot of will to order her body to begin standing.

There was a crack in the air. It caught her mid-movement. Pain flared in her right hip. Metal ripped through her flesh and she fell back to her belly. She looked up toward the source of the shot and saw Tia's kidnapper, a man in a breather mask, with a gun leveled on her. Movement meant immediate death, and she still couldn't see her own firearm, so she froze in place. Her eyes focused on the mask and the face behind it. Specifically, on the intent eyes showing through the mask.

Fear and surprise bolted through her heart. She knew those eyes. She'd seen them plenty of times in her dreams and nightmares. "Kepper."

For a moment, she thought it was over. That he would pull the trigger again and put a bullet in her head. But no second shot came. He returned to his aircar. Miri briefly noticed the slumped form of Tia in the front seat before the door closed and the aircar sped off.


Kepper left his wounded pursuer behind with satisfaction. She would pose no further threat to his escape, and he considered the act of sparing her life to be preserving her as a potential mark in the future should the right offer come along.

Freed from the pursuit, Kepper still kept his car going at a high speed until he arrived at his rented hangar. Inside was his stolen League courier ship, a specialized vessel that once belonged to a League External Security operative. The silver-sheened vessel was a sleek, aerodynamic model with a special extra: its own Lawrence drive, an uncommon feature for such a small ship.

Kepper pulled on his equipment bag over one shoulder before lifting his captive onto the other. The burden was significant, but he had no time for a second trip to his vehicle. His left hand came up and typed in the unlocking sequence, opening his ship.

Once inside, he dropped his equipment bag in place and carried Nguyen into the living area. He secured her shackles to restraints set into the floor for such jobs, a titanium-based alloy she'd need a plasma torch to cut through, before returning to the cockpit. With a few keystrokes, he triggered the ship's engines to activate from standby mode and set it for spaceflight.

He wasn't surprised when the comm system lit up. He expected that Allentown Traffic Control would pick up his startup sequence. "Vessel Nimrod, be advised that all departures are canceled until further notice. Please cancel launch preparations immediately."

Kepper grinned. His systems showed all green, so it was time for his final play. "Attention Traffic Control, this is the Nimrod. I'm going to launch now. If you don't open the launch doors and let me out of the station, I'm going to make my own exit by initiating the nuclear charge I placed at Section G-48 of the dome support structure. It'll blow a nice big hole through your dome and vent your atmosphere right into space. You've got two minutes until I'm at the door. The choice is yours."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Allentown police filled the Shadow Wolf's hangar. Normally, such a presence would not have been welcome to Henry, but given the situation, he was happy they were getting the gang that attacked his crew out of his sight. Given their role in Tia's abduction, he didn't trust himself in their proximity.

The head of the police detachment, a broad-shouldered bearded man named Inspector Markson, looked up from his digital tablet at the sound of the approaching hoverbike engine. Henry's eyes moved toward the source as well, giving him a view of Brigitte returning with Miri on her rear seat. His gut twisted at the lack of Tia. They didn't get to her. She's gone. The twisting became a painful void inside of him.

Brigitte brought the bike right up to them, weaving around a pile of ore crates to do so. "Get Oskar!" she insisted. "She's been shot."

He turned toward Oskar, who was still stabilizing Yanik, given the mess made of the Saurian's shoulder. "I'll be right over," Oskar promised. "Just make sure she's not bleeding." Henry checked and noted that the tourniquet and bandaging on the wound were intact, if still bloody.

Markson was all business. "Did you get a good look at the kidnapper?"

Miri nodded at him. Her eyes met Henry's. "Kepper," she said.

Markson glanced curiously at Henry, who knew the man could see the recognition that showed on Henry's face. "You're sure?"

"He's hunted me before," Miri remarked. "And I recognized that same look in his eyes."

"Who is this 'Kepper'?" Markson asked.

"A bounty hunter and assassin we've crossed paths with before. He's a stone cold killer. Sociopath, too."

"That's not good." Markson held his finger to his ear. His face paled before their eyes. "Traffic Control's spoken to him. He's demanding launch clearance, or he'll set off a nuclear charge on the dome." His voice betrayed an unmistakable horror, justified by the scope of Kepper's threat.

Henry swallowed at that. Kepper would do it too. He'd kill everyone on the station to fulfill his contract. "So you're letting him go?"

"Sorry, but we don't have a choice. We're confirming the charge's presence now. If we're lucky, a disposal team can disarm it quickly."

"He would account for that," Miri said. "Even if you can, you won't be able to do it before he's clear of the station and burning for the limit."

"Possibly. But it doesn't matter. We can't risk every life in Allentown for one spacer."

Henry gritted his teeth and forced his anger down. Markson was right, of course, and he couldn't blame him. He could only blame himself for not dealing with Kepper before now. Not that we had much of a choice last time. Without Kepper, we'd have never stopped the League's plot to take over Lusitania.

Now the son of a bitch was making off with one of his crew. With his hand-picked XO.

And all he could do was watch.

To hell with that, he decided. "Get everyone back aboard," he ordered Brigitte and Miri.

"Captain Henry, we can't allow you to launch," Markson warned. "Not until that charge is dealt with."

"I know that, but I don't want to lose a second when we're free to pursue. It could give us a chance to make the intercept."

The police inspector seemed to consider the point for a moment. "Alright. We'll have Traffic Control free you to go through the airlock as soon as we've secured the dome. That's the best I can do for you."

"Hopefully, that's all we'll need." Henry tried to feel the same hope that went into those words, with little success.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The moment of truth was approaching for Kepper. Under his steady hand, the Nimrod approached the four-sectioned portal of the station's inner airlock. "Traffic Control, I'm ready to enter the airlock. Open it now."

There was a pause at the other end. Kepper nearly reminded them of the stakes, but was preempted by the voice over the link. "Roger, Nimrod. Opening now."

The airlock opened. Kepper brought the ship into the chamber before firing the engines to a hover configuration. A monitor on the airlock interior wall mirrored the data showing on his status screen, showing the lock being de-pressurized.

It was a tense wait to see the process finish. Even now, Allentown's security services were likely locating the charge. It would take them some time to disarm it or remove it safely, but they might gamble and delay him until then. If they refused to open the doors, he'd be trapped.

But they won't. They can't, he reassured himself. They won't risk dying for one spacer.

That judgment was vindicated when the systems confirmed the airlock was depressurized. The door ahead slid open. Kepper brought his ship through. The moment he was clear of the airlock, he triggered the ship's drives to full and accelerated, hard, for the system's Lawrence limit.

As his speed built, he pondered the device. A part of him relished the idea of hitting the initiation key. The sight of the dome being blown open, the debris and the bodies coming through. In a single stroke, he'd become the Destroyer of Allentown Station.

No. With that thought, Kepper focused and pushed away the urge. Professional courtesy demanded he obey the terms he'd laid down. They'd let him go after all.

A sensor from the charge went off. The temperature fell drastically. Kepper checked the feeds from the charge and found them unresponsive. Liquid-nitrogen container, he thought to himself. Floods the charge, keeps the initiator from activating. Clever.

If the charge was disabled, that meant he'd gotten clear just in time. He started keeping an eye on the sensors just to be sure.

He wasn't disappointed.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The outer airlock door slid open on Allentown Station and the Shadow Wolf shot out of the airlock, engines going to full as quickly as Cera could push them.

From his command chair, Henry watched the holotank plot the location of Kepper's ship. "The sensors barely read the ship's there," Piper said from her station. "If he wasn't burning at full power, I'm not sure we'd be seeing him."

"It might be nice to steal a top-of-the-line League spy ship," Miri murmured. She was at Tia's usual seat. Her leg was wrapped in bandaging.

Henry heard her words, but his eyes were fixed on the holotank plot. The distance wasn't decreasing nearly enough. He ran the calculation in his mind and knew they'd never make it. Kepper would jump out with Tia before they could get in range to shoot or grapple him.

That left just one option to prevent his escape.

Henry's finger found the ship intercom key on his chair. "Attention, all hands. Brace for high G conditions."

Miri and Piper turned their heads toward him. "You're not going to use the fusion drive, are you?" Piper asked, some incredulity and fear in her voice. "What about the damage?"

"If we don't, he gets away," Henry said. "And we lose Tia."

Piper needed no further encouragement. She settled into the seat and braced herself.

"Captain, we're ready," said Pieter over the intercom. "But I can't promise she'll keep together for long."

"Do what you can. Cera, now."

At the stroke of a key, Cera brought the Shadow Wolf's backup drives online. In the rear two holds of the ship, pumps moved deuterium and helium-3 from their storage tanks into a central reactor vessel, where the elements were fused together. The resulting plasma was fed to the Shadow Wolf's engine nozzles by way of specialized manifolds with electro-magnetic fields.

With the fusion drives active, the Shadow Wolf's acceleration spiked. Henry felt something like a heavy weight push him further into his chair as the acceleration overwhelmed the ship's inertial compensators. From her seat, Miri reported as they went past 2Gs, then 2.5.

The extra acceleration did as hoped: it made an interception of Kepper's ship possible. Henry watched the holotank intently, trying to will them into range before Kepper could get to the limit.

Several tense and stressful minutes passed under the intense G-forces of the fusion drives, as the markers on the holotank drew closer and closer. With how close their timing would be, Henry asked, "Do you think you could clip them with the neutron cannon? Just enough to disable the drives on that thing?"

Piper shook her head slightly, a serious effort in their situation. "Sorry, sir, but I can't guarantee a shot like that. I could land a direct hit that destroys the ship."

"What about the plasma cannons?"

"We're almost in range on those. I'll lock on."

On the front "shoulders" of the Shadow Wolf, hull plates shifted to reveal the Tal'mayan-model plasma cannons installed on barbette mounts to the Shadow Wolf's hull. The two weapons depressed slightly and started firing. Purple bolts of energy crossed space to strike at the enemy ship. A barrier of energy came up to meet them.

"It looks like that ship's got some kind of heavy deflector system for its size," she said, her voice strained by the Gs.

"Keep firing!"

The Shadow Wolf's weapons blazed away at the kidnapper's ship. Repeatedly, purple light crashed into the light blue field formed around the ship's engines. It held firm.

By now, everyone felt the vibration in the deck. A low metallic whine came to their ears. The Shadow Wolf's own body couldn't long endure the stresses of its extra drive, and the ship was slowly suffering greater injury that might pull it apart. Indeed, every moment they were keeping the drive on like this, they were reducing the remaining lifetime of the ship.

Henry didn't want to lose the Wolf. He almost couldn't stand the thought of it.

But to save one of their own, it was worth it.

"We're almost t' th' limit," Cera advised. "Can ye get th' grapplers on th' sassenach yet?"

"Just a little closer," Piper urged.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

It wasn't often that Kepper was surprised. The speed with which the Shadow Wolf caught up accomplished just that. He frowned slightly. So much for the intel that their fusion drive was gone.

Now they drew into effective grappler range. If the energy grapplers got a hold of his ship, they could force him to a stop and keep him from entering a wormhole. He wouldn't be able to escape. He needed to buy time, or barring that, he needed to get out of the system now.

He considered that option. It was dangerous. He was within the Lawrence limit for the star system, so generating a wormhole would tax the drive. If the drive failed, he was stuck, and if it failed while he was transitioning through the wormhole, he would be dead.

But if he didn't get away, he would probably be dead anyway. Worse yet, he would be failing on his job, and his reputation demanded he see it through.

Kepper's hand went to the jump controls. The ship shuddered from another plasma blast while he keyed the drive to his destination. His deflectors showed orange on the display, meaning they were starting to go critical. His ship wouldn't take too many more hits.

A sly grin came to his face as he prepared to initialize the jump drive. Well played, Captain Henry. I always enjoy stiff competition.

His hand pressed down on the control, and ahead of the Nimrod, space ripped open in a rainbow of colors.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Piper noticed the energy spike on the sensors as she prepared to trigger another plasma cannon burst. "His jump drive's gone active!"

"What?" Henry's shock was clear. The two ships hadn't yet made it to the limit. "Grapple him, now!"

On the main display, they saw a wormhole form ahead of their silver quarry in an explosion of color more vibrant and violent than usual. At Piper's urgent key press, beams of pale blue light shot out from the bow energy grapplers to either side of the ship's bridge module "head." They extended through space, grasping at the ship, nearly reaching it…

…but not quite.

With a final surge of acceleration, the silver shape shot through the wormhole it'd generated. The wormhole shut behind it.

"Dammit!" Henry screamed in frustration. "Kill the drive, now!"

Cera was already doing so. The G-forces ceased. Henry stopped feeling as if his bones were turning to jelly. But it was little comfort to him in these circumstances.

One of their own was gone, taken, and they had no idea where.


The mood on the Shadow Wolf was subdued when they returned to the Allentown Station hangar. Henry felt the dejection from his crew amplify his own bitter frustration with their failure to save Tia.

Now, in his office, he listened to Pieter as the engineer laid out the cost of their failed mission. "It'll take the rest of the day to finish the assessment, but we've already found an increase in the number of the microfractures within our structural frame. The use of the fusion drive for that amount of time and at that level has cost the ship at least six months of service life. Maybe as much as nine."

Six to nine months of lost service life. Damn. Considering they were already looking at four years, at most, of serviceable flight time, the loss was a significant figure. Henry frowned and nodded. "Anything else?"

"Nothing," Pieter said. Beside him, Samina seemed ready to speak up, but did not do so.

Henry directed his attention to Miri and Oskar next. The two were at his left-hand side, further from the office door. "How're the injuries we've taken?"

"My leg's feeling better," Miri answered.

"The wound was not severe, not on her anyway." Oskar shook his head. "But Yanik is another matter. The weapon was some form of explosive round, and it has done massive damage to his shoulder joint and the surrounding tissues. It nearly severed his right arm entirely. With all of the damage, he will need more intensive treatment, and that isn't available on Allentown Station, nor my infirmary."

"So he'll need somewhere else to get fully treated." Henry sighed. "Do what you can for him until we can get him somewhere."

"He will not be in physical pain, that much I can promise," Oskar answered.

With an eye on Samina, Henry asked, "Anything else?"

The young woman got the hint. "Captain, are you going to tell Chief Khánh?"

Henry thought about his answer. That's not a conversation I've been looking forward to. "I'll do it when we're done," he finally said. "For the time being, we already paid for that ore, so go ahead and load it. Who knows what we can do with it while we try to find Tia."

"The most likely suspect is the Hestian Business Council," Miri pointed out. "Tia was one of those who refused to sign their amnesty. Maybe they consider her a threat to their regime?"

"That means that something's changed in sixteen years," Henry observed in a quiet tone. "Do you have any contacts that can help?"

"I can see what Abdul knows," Miri offered. "And a few of my former crewmates on vessels that frequent Hestian trade routes."

"Alright, then. Get to that and finish the ore load. I have a call to make."

Henry waited for the four to depart his office. Once the door was shut behind them, he brought his desk monitor display up and linked into the GalNet.

It took only a little time for the connection to finalize, and an assistant to find Linh. She appeared on Henry's display with her olive-yellow complexion already pale. "Something's happened to Tia," she said without a trace of doubt in her voice.

Henry nodded. "She's been abducted. By Kepper."

"Damn them. Damn them all. Why can't they leave us alone?!" she shouted. "They already beat us!"

"So you have confirmation? You know this is someone back on Hestia?"

Linh shook her head. "It's the only thing that makes sense. Tia… isn't the first to be attacked, Jim. Just the first to not be killed."

Henry listened with increasing worry as Linh described the deaths of other prominent Hestian exiles. It was an impressive list. The only name not on it was Francois "Frank" Lou, the megacorp owner, which said something about whatever was up. "They want to get rid of the revolutionary exiles who got away sixteen years ago. The ones who won't sign the amnesty."

"I think so. Honestly, I'm not sure who else this could be."

"Could be the League," Henry pointed out. "It wouldn't be the first time they've gone after left-wing revolutionary figures they couldn't control."

"Maybe. But they're still getting re-established in Sagittarius under the peace treaty. Why come after us?" She shook her head.

"I don't know that, but one thing I do know is that Tia would want you to be safe. We've got a load of titanium-47 ore from Allentown that should be welcome at Trinidad. We'll bring it over and see where we can go from there." Henry forced his voice to become gentle, which wasn't easy, given the lingering anger and frustration from Kepper's assault. "Plus, Tia would want us watching your back."

"She would," Linh admitted. "And once you're here, we'll find out how to get her back."

"That's a promise," Henry vowed.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia felt a pain in the center of her forehead. She opened her eyes and noted her surroundings. It was a ship cabin from the look of things, with a bathroom stall in a chamber off to one corner, a bed, and closets behind sliding doors. Across from her was a work desk and chair.

She tried to move, but there was little give in it. Her wrists and ankles were confined in stun cuffs. A length of chain held both sets of cuffs to the floor of the cabin, preventing her from rising.

I'm a prisoner. The fear and uncertainty filled her. Is this about what happened to the others? Then why would they keep me alive if they're killing off anyone who wouldn't sign the amnesty?

A cabin door on her right opened. A man in a casual two-piece suit stepped in. It took Tia a few moments to remember where she'd seen him before, and who he was. She frowned at the recollection when she made it. "Kepper."

"Miss Nguyen." He spoke levelly, as if they were passing acquaintances.

Tia held up her cuffed wrists. "I'm your mark, then?"

"You are." He sat at the desk. "The employer's paying far above market rate for spacers too. But everyone in Neutral Space knows the Shadow Wolf now, so it's deserved. You should feel honored."

There were only two possibilities Tia could fathom for Kepper's employers, and the fear of being at the mercy of those suspects froze her in place. She managed to swallow and regain her voice. "Is it the League?"

Kepper laughed. "Ha! The League?" His voice spoke with amusement. "They want me dead too, so no. They're not happy I have this ship or what I did with it. I'm very much an 'enemy of Society'." He chuckled. "I think I've killed a dozen of their operatives since Pluto Base. And that doesn't count the undercover ones I compromised by selling their identities to whoever wanted to pay."

"Then who hired you to take me?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm sure you've got a good idea," Kepper said, his voice lowered nearly to a purr. "But don't worry, you'll be finding out soon enough."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Shadow Wolf's second departure from Allentown Station was calmer than the first, but the tension in the crew was worse. Yanik’s crippling injury was known in full to the others now. The ship was effectively down its First and Second Mates.

With the ship burning out for the system limit, Henry returned to his office to deal with the mundane work of the day. But whenever he tried to look over the account ledgers or the invoices, he couldn't keep a focus on them. Bitter self-recrimination filled him at the realization much of this was done by Tia lately, given his inability to focus on work since burying Charlie. He had to start almost from scratch to reconnect with the ship's operations.

He was looking over the month's payroll record when the door chime went off. "Come in," he called out.

The door slid open and Pieter walked in. "Captain." He took one of the open seats. "You wanted to see me?"

"How did that survey go? How much damage did we do?"

The way Pieter's eyes fell told Henry it wasn't going to be good news. "The microfractures grew more than I realized. My estimate was wrong by at least three months."

"So we lost nine to twelve months of service life?"

"Yes, sir."

Henry's jaw clenched. "Alright. Recommendations?"

"I would almost suggest eliminating the temptation, Captain. Simply disconnect the fusion drive." Pieter shook his head. "But the damage is done, and we might still have an emergency."

"Won't do us any good if our ship falls apart around us. Any way we could reduce the strain? Shore up the inertial compensators?"

"That mostly affects the crew, not the structure. The ship simply wasn't designed to handle the stresses of the fusion drive's thrust potential, Captain. No one can change that."

"Right. Otherwise, we might have fixed it already." Henry tried to push down the growing despair he felt. He found himself focusing on the dark coloring showing under Pieter's eyes. "You've done a lot of work today, Pieter. Why don't you hit the rack?"

The relief on Pieter's face was palpable. "Thank you, sir. I think I will." He stood and departed.

Henry waited for the door to close before he reached for the cabinet behind him. From the drawer, he pulled a tumbler and a bottle of bourbon whiskey from Bluegrass. He considered the bottle for a moment before resigning himself to the need he felt. He twisted the cap off and poured himself a shot.

He picked up the glass and nearly had it to his lips when he stopped for the moment. Something within him told him this wasn't the right thing to do. The others needed him sober. They needed him to be in charge, leading them through this. He shouldn't be in here drinking away his frustration. This behavior… it wasn't what he was supposed to be.

I'm supposed to be an officer in the CDF, he thought bitterly. I should've made general by now. I shouldn't have lost everything to the dishonesty of others.

But you got justice in the end. Faulkner's dead. Erhart's on Lambert's Lament. Everyone knows the truth.

His expression soured. Everyone knows the truth that I gave up. That I could've stood up to Erhart from the start, but didn't. I surrendered to him.

You were protecting your crew from him.

No. I was a coward.

The argument within him was not a new one. He'd waged it for over fifteen years now. But it had a new edge to it. Even exoneration wasn't enough to overcome the feeling of personal failure he felt over the Laffey. If I'd stopped him then… how many people would be alive?

He examined the fluid in his glass for a long moment. He'd acquired a taste for this stuff with his uncle, Charlie Henry, while the two were doing repair work and refurbishment on the Shadow Wolf after purchasing the damaged ship.

Once, this memory, among others, had brought him warmth. A reminder of Uncle Charlie's love for family. Now, it only seemed to re-open the wound in Henry's heart. It reminded him that Charlie was gone. He'd passed on while Henry was off dealing with Erhart, denying the two the hope of a final goodbye spoken together.

We deserved better, he thought bitterly. At least, Uncle Charlie did.

His resistance gave way. Henry put the glass to his lips and downed the entire shot.


With precise care, Oskar made a final pass on Yanik's damaged shoulder with the Coalition-built bone-knitter. The device did its job well in setting the last of the shoulder fractures, providing Yanik's body a stable foundation for the muscles' recovery.

He placed the device back in its place in his cabinets, marveling at the effectiveness of the technology. The Coalition was ahead of everyone else in this field. He was grateful that General Ostrovsky, the head of CDF Intelligence, let him keep the medical technology "borrowed" from the Masada Redoubt during the Exodus Fleet affair.

A quick scan confirmed the surgical operation was a success. Oskar removed the sedative IV and waited patiently for Yanik to awaken, doing inventory during his wait.

He was looking away when Yanik spoke. "I cannot move the arm very well. Did the operation go as planned?"

"It did. Your skeletal structure is intact," Oskar replied. He turned to face Yanik as the Saurian sat up. "But I can't regrow muscle and tissue the same way. I can only bind the wounds and use treatments to encourage your body's natural healing. And that will take time."

Yanik's eyes lowered. He flexed the afflicted arm slightly and found his elbow still had good range. "You saved the limb, at least. Thank you."

"You are welcome. I dreaded the possibility of having to amputate." Oskar closed his eyes and relived a hundred such operations in his life. Mostly on camp prisoners injured during labor, or from conflicts with one another, but some were even older.

His mind wandered back to Regensburg, and one of his first patients as a senior class surgeon student. A young man injured in an aircar accident, with crushed limbs and savaged nerves. The parents who had to be informed that the damage meant their son would be disabled for life, even with the best medical technology available to the League.

"Your experience haunts you?" asked Yanik.

"It can," he admitted. "Especially the consequences of those experiences." He drew in a breath. "I've always wanted to help people, but sometimes, even the best of intentions isn't enough."

As he finished speaking, Oskar noted the expression on Yanik's face, a new one he'd never seen on the alien before. For the first time, Yanik seemed… smaller. Not in the physical sense, but as if something had been lost.

Yanik noticed the way Oskar was looking at him. His face shifted to a more stoic, normal appearance. Immediately, Oskar looked away, realizing he'd embarrassed his friend with the attention.

"Can I return to my duties?" Yanik spoke with a certain resignation.

As much as Oskar wished he didn't have to, his duty as a physician and surgeon demanded the truth of him. "Limit your use of your right arm. No lifting. Definitely no fighting. You can man one of the ship's control stations, at least, and perform supervisory and administrative tasks." Oskar rattled the list off, knowing full well Yanik was not happy to hear it. "See me tomorrow for further scans. Above all else, be careful with your shoulder and arm."

"I will," Yanik pledged.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Shadow Wolf galley was unusually quiet and empty. This suited Miri, given her mood. She sat, quietly working on reducing her bowl of beef stew, thinking of every mistake she’d made in pursuing Kepper. I rushed in; I didn't consider the possibilities. I should've been more careful.

The door slid open and Piper entered with Cera. Both look fairly tired, coming off the end of their shifts on the bridge, and were undoubtedly looking for a light meal before getting some rest. They retrieved their own pre-cooked meals from the pantry and pulled the chem strips from the containers, triggering the chemical reaction that would leave the food at a hot, yet edible temperature. They sat at the next table over. "We lost Felix, now Tia," Piper noted bitterly. "We're going to get to the point where we can't man the ship properly in an emergency. I mean, who'll man the quads?"

"Maybe th' Captain can hire on some new hands at Trinidad," Cera suggested. "Got t' be plenty o' station folk lookin' t' become spacers."

"He hasn't hired a replacement for Felix yet," Piper grumbled. "He might've been a CDF spy, but at least he did his share of the work around here. It seems ever since the thing with Erhart, the Captain's just been flying on autopilot. Acting like there's no point."

"Losing Uncle Charlie wasn't easy for him, Piper."

"Maybe." Piper shrugged. "I don't know. It just feels like everything's finally coming undone around here. Tia was keeping the ship running, and without her…" The younger woman glanced to Miri. "Well, at least we have Miri. She was pretty badass back there."

Miri returned the glance with a frown. "Don't," she said.

"Don't?" Confusion filled Piper's voice. "You went all holovid action heroine on Allentown Station, jumping on that bike and chasing after that bastard Kepper."

"I acted rashly and foolishly," Miri insisted. "I underestimated Tia's kidnapper. I should've known it was someone of Kepper's caliber." She clenched a fist. Her wound, despite being healed, seemed to ache again. "I failed Tia, and I can only pray HaShem watches over her."

"You did what you could," Piper said. She leaned over and put a hand on Miri's. "We wouldn't even know it was Kepper if not for you."

"Sometimes ye can't stop th' crash; ye can only slow yerself t' save what ye can," Cera remarked. "Don't let it get t' ye. We'll get our First Mate back. Just as we stopped th' League at Lusitania an' that murderin' bastard Erhart."

"It won't be that easy," Miri said as she mulled the most likely suspect for ordering Tia's abduction. Adonai, I pray it's not them

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Despite her terror, Tia managed to doze off after a time, her body needing the rest to heal from the gas and the attack that knocked her out before. She awoke at feeling a shudder through the structure of Kepper's ship. She was certain he'd just docked with another ship or a space station.

For the umpteenth time, she tested her restraints. For the umpteenth time, they wouldn't yield. It's them. It has to be them. But why do they want me alive?

More to the point, what were they going to do to her? The thought of what they'd inflicted on her uncle and the other comrades chilled her to the core of her being.

Kepper appeared through the door. "We're here," was all he said as he freed her from the floor. He gripped her strongly by the arm and hauled her toward the door.

Tia's first impulse was to try and fight, to hit him, to do something, but she had no opening. With her wrists and ankles cuffed as they were, she wouldn't out-leverage him, and he could just activate the stunners on the cuffs if she started to get away. Could I knock him out in time? If I could get a grip on him and get the cuffs around his throat…

A jolt traveled swiftly from her wrists and ankles to the rest of her body. The pain drew a sharp cry from her throat. She glanced toward him to see he had the stun cuff control in his hand. "I can see the look in your eyes," he explained. "Don't even think about it."

Tia frowned and tried to force away the fear. She didn't entirely succeed.

He brought her through the airlock and out into a hangar deck. Tia still couldn't tell if she was being brought to a space vessel or a station. Ahead of her were armored security troopers carrying rifles in their arms. Her gut twisted at seeing the logo on their shoulders.

It was a stylized "R." Not just any version of that letter, but the one that matched the insignia on her stolen pistol.

Said pistol appeared in Kepper's free hand. He lifted it toward a figure appearing through the security troops, a large man in a gray and blue business jacket. His skin tone was darker than Henry's.

But it was his face that Tia's eyes focused on. Her heart jumped into her throat. She knew the face, she knew it. It was the trooper who killed Quoc on the worst day of her life. "You," she hissed in disbelief. "I killed you."

"Nearly so," the man said, a Franco-African accent still prominent in his English. He tapped at the right side of his face at the eye. As Tia looked more closely, she realized the skin wasn't quite the right texture, and the eye had a subtle glow his other eye lacked. It had to be a cybernetic implant. "You took my eye on the day we crushed your revolution. Another centimeter or two to the left, and you might have killed me." His grin's viciousness hid nothing of his hatred. "Thankfully, your aim was as bad as your precious comrades' that day."

"You didn't beat us by yourselves," Tia snarled. "The League told you everything about the revolution; you knew we were coming!"

"Which is to our credit," the cyborgized man answered. Even his voice sounded a bit electronic. "The League needed resources. It didn't need a broken world."

"You asked about this?" Kepper offered the man the Rigault-made pistol she took from him on the day of the revolution.

He accepted the pistol with a smile. "After all this time, it's nice to have my property back." He checked the weapon's safety before pocketing it. "Well, let us get the formalities dispensed with." He smiled snidely at Tia, every inch of the man oozing smug satisfaction.

"Welcome home, Tia Nguyen. I'm Antoine Rigault, Chief Security Officer of Rigault Heavy Industries and Commander of the Hestian Security Forces. In the name of the Republic of Hestia and the Hestian Business Council, you're under arrest for rebellion against the Republic."


The size of the ship he'd landed on impressed Kepper. It was larger than most ships short of heavy cargo haulers or military cruiser ships, and the markings were all Rigault.

The interior was more function than form, like a cargo or military ship, but that gave way to the opulence of the state room that Antoine led him into. It was like stepping into a suite in a fine hotel room. Velvet and leather-lined cushions of crimson tone were prominent, with the coffee table made of fine wood. One side had a bar visible and the other a pantry. A set of double doors further in led off to what was presumably the bedroom.

Antoine took one of the chairs and motioned for Kepper to take the other. "We are still a few hours from when you will have to leave us," he remarked. He brought out the pistol again and set it on the table. "For this, I will give you a bonus."

Kepper noted the way his employer's eyes glinted, both the natural one and the machine eye. "I had a feeling this job was personal for you," he said.

A slight grin formed on Antoine's face, but he said nothing further at the moment.

Kepper leaned forward in his seat. "A pleasure doing business, as always. Is this where we part ways, then? I'm aware you don't want me planetside."

"A regrettable necessity for the moment. Your… reputation with some of our trading partners would make your presence difficult for us."

Kepper was no fool. "You mean your buddies in the League of Sol wouldn't want to see me around."

"Among others." Antoine folded his hands on his lap. "You have made a number of enemies, Mister Kepper. The list speaks to your skill in what you do. But it does make your presence difficult for my superiors."

"Is this your way of telling me you no longer wish to employ me?" Kepper asked the question with no emotion in his tone, since he felt none. It wouldn't be the first time a client decided they didn't need him anymore. So long as said client didn't try to kill him, he was more than happy to honor their wishes in that respect.

Antoine shook his head. "No, you misunderstand me. I cannot have you on the planet, that is all, but I wish to retain your services. There is a potential job on Trinidad Station that might come your way, should other factors not play out as I desire."

"Trinidad Station." Kepper considered the locale. A pirate station that wasn't quite so piratey these days, given their government was recognized by Lusitania and some of Lusitania's closest trading partners. Getting in and out cleanly might be a challenge, but he was certain he could meet it. "Is the mark to be bagged or tagged?" Knowing if he was out to kill the mark or capture them would influence his escape plans should he go in.

"Either is possible, but I can say no more at the moment. You are a contingency on this matter, one I hope to count on."

"As long as the pay is good," Kepper remarked.

"It will be, and there are other considerations for you."

"Such as?"

Antoine had what he must have thought was a knowing look on his face. "It is said you have certain… interests. I can promise you that Hestia provides for quite a population of people to meet your needs. The native population of the planet is arguably higher than it needs to be, and there are many Hestians in the service sector that wouldn't be missed should you wish to… indulge."

Kepper frowned at that. His urges were a tightly kept secret to protect his reputation. Whenever he gave in to them, he cleaned up as necessary and took effort to hide the remains of his victims, and he never breathed a word to others.

The irritation that Antoine had any idea of those urges was magnified by the disgust he felt at the offer. Antoine was offering to feed his own employees, or those of his partners, to Kepper. As if he was a prized hound being fed choice meats. This reduced the man's stature in his eyes, making him feel contemptible to Kepper's sensibilities. Professionals shouldn't turn on their own employees, not like that.

He noticed the surprise that appeared on Antoine's face. He could see the disgust, the contempt, and the irritation, undoubtedly. "I apologize," Antoine remarked, his tone betraying the extent of his surprise. "I misjudged you."

"You did," Kepper remarked coldly.

"It was not intended. I don't wish to insult you, Mister Kepper. I value your skills too highly. I have other plans, plans for the future, and I'm willing to pay for your place in bringing them about. I need good people more than ever. And you are the best."

Kepper narrowed his eyes for a moment. But only a moment. Antoine's sincerity was as clear as his ambitions. Kepper could work with the ambitious, so long as they respected him, and Antoine clearly hinted at that.

The pay is good, and the jobs fit them. With that in mind, he noted, "Well said, Mister Rigault. For the time being, I'm still your man."

"Excellent." Antoine grinned. "We're going to change the galaxy, Mister Kepper. One step at a time."

Kepper nodded. And if I don't like the way you're doing it, I'll do to you what I did to my last treacherous employer.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The turbulence of re-entry told Tia that the cargo shuttle she was held on was making atmospheric entry. Her guards remained quiet and foreboding, their faces hidden by the helmets they were wearing.

The turbulence gave way to normal flight, and within a few minutes, that ended with the rumble through the shuttle deck of a landing on a shuttle pad somewhere.

The guards came for her then. Her cuffs were attached to another chain that linked to the cuffs around her ankles. They led her through the rear door of the shuttle. Tia's eyes adjusted to the light outside as she made her first steps on her homeworld in sixteen years. They were on the roof of a building, and beyond, she saw the towers and skyline of Thyssenbourg.

This wasn't how she wanted to come back. In her dreams, she came back alongside an army of revolution to sweep away the unjust and corrupt order of the megacorporations. Instead, she was a helpless prisoner of that order. She had no expectations of anything good to come.

There were more guards waiting for her. "This way," one of them growled, and she was compelled to follow into the building.

They walked through sterile halls while Tia's uncertainty and fear built. What did Rigault have in mind for her? Why did he have her captured instead of assassinated like the others? The dread that followed her uncertainty filled the pit of her stomach and worked its way up to grasp at her heart.

They arrived at a door and forced her inside to find a bland, unfurnished room. The chains were removed from her restraints. "Remove your clothes," one guard instructed.

Tia bristled at the order and refused to move. This earned her a backhanded slap to the face that split her lip. The guard repeated the order and Tia again defied him. I won't give them the satisfaction, she insisted to herself.

She'd anticipated, even wanted, another slap. Instead, the lead guard ordered subordinates to hold her down. They took her by the arms and waist, forcing her into immobility while the faceless man used his combat knife to cut her clothing free, piece by piece. Once the last of it was gone, he barked, "Search her."

The search was thorough. Tia burned with fury at her humiliating treatment, but she was incapable of resisting with her restraints in place. She bit back the sigh of relief she felt coming on when the ordeal ended and the probing ceased.

But they weren't done. Two guards approached her holding up nozzles of some sort attached to a tank brought into the room. The others stepped away and the guards squeezed the trigger mechanisms. Two solid jets of spraying fluid shot out. The impact nearly knocked her off her feet, blinding her with what felt like a powdery fluid. She smelled the chemicals in it. It was a familiar smell, like the cleaning agents used on the Shadow Wolf. They're delousing me, she realized. Like I am some diseased woman off the street.

"Make sure you get every inch of the bitch," the lead guard instructed his subordinates. "You know how filthy these Hestians get."

"And yet we're still better at hygiene than you," Tia retorted, unwilling to let the comment go unchallenged. She was forced to turn her head away to avoid getting any of the delousing spray in her mouth.

She turned it back in time to see him stomp forward. The spraying stopped as he stepped between the sprayers. He grabbed her by the throat and delivered a rib-bruising punch to her belly. Her diaphragm seized up and she toppled over. He followed it up by kicking her in the stomach, leaving her sprawled out on the floor. "Continue," he barked.

The spraying resumed while Tia tried to breathe again. The smell of the delousing agent nearly choked her as they coated her in it from head to toe, leaving a powdery residue in her hair. All the while, she felt two of her ribs throb with pain from the vicious blow.

Finally, the spray ended. Two other guards approached and removed her cuffs. She heard the soft impact beside her and noticed the orange-toned pile thrown to her side. "Put on your new suit, prisoner, or we'll do it for you," growled the lead guard.

Tia quickly decided she'd rather not push them that far. Besides, she wanted to be clothed again. Silently, she unfolded the prisoner jumpsuit and fit it on as quickly as she could. It was a little baggy, but it fit well enough.

Once she finished dressing, Tia was re-cuffed and escorted from the room. She felt raw from the intensity of the delousing spray, not to mention the bruising from the blows she'd received, and her cheeks burned in fury from the rough handling of their search. The experience made her feel sick.

The corridors gave way soon enough to a cell block of some kind. She noticed some of the cells were empty, but others had other prisoners. Fellow Hestians. They all looked miserable, and a few looked her way without speaking as she was led by.

The guards ahead of her reached an empty cell they picked for her. They opened the door and stood to the side as she was forced in. A hard cot and a commode were the only furnishings. Aside from them, the only extra feature was a metal ring set into the floor. Its purpose was made clear when one of the guards detached the chain that her cuffs were attached to in order to loop it through the ring. This would give her just enough length to reach the cot and commode.

The guards gave no parting remarks. They filed from the cell and shut it with a sharp clang, leaving her to her confinement.

Tia settled onto the cot and let out a breath. This was it, then. Sixteen years of exile ended, not in victory for her cause, but in captivity to the oppressors she'd sworn to overthrow. Their treatment of her so far seemed a terrifying harbinger of what was to come. Was she to be abused like her Uncle Guillaume and his comrades? Marched through towns and villages across the planet, whipped through the streets, placed into stocks, condemned to public ridicule and abuse? The holovids of his fate, up to the day he was hung, haunted her through her exile.

He kept his head high, she remembered. Indeed, one of the vids had been his treatment in their hometown. The people of Xom Lang initially refused to engage in the hurling of objects and other ritual degrading the corporate-puppet authorities demanded, even though it risked the HBC reducing food shipments to the town. They only commenced the abuse when her uncle spoke the words, "It is okay. You need to eat."

He was so calm in his suffering. He kept his dignity. Tia knew then that she could do no less than her uncle. They can hurt me, humiliate me, kill me. But I can keep my dignity. I can still fight. No amnesty. No easy trial. I keep my head up until the end.

She dared not hope it, not if she wanted to avoid disappointment, but a part of her wondered if she had a chance of rescue. The underground still existed, her party and the others devoted to overthrowing the oligarchy.

And if not them… Jim. Jim Henry and the others would be trying to find a way to get her out, that much she was certain of. All she had to do was resist and stay alive, if those two things were compatible, until they came.

But whether they come or not… I'm not giving that Rigault bastard the satisfaction. The memory of my comrades won't let me do otherwise, she decided.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Antoine observed the launching of the Nimrod and its approved course to the lunar orbiting station that Rigault maintained around Hestia's moon. It would be the destination of his own vessel soon enough, although he'd be on a shuttle back to Thyssenbourg before then. So much work remained to be done.

A tap of a finger removed the image of the Nimrod, replacing it with footage from Thyssenbourg. A camera showed the latest prisoner of the Hestian Security Forces in her new cell at the HSF's main Justice and Rehabilitation Center in the capital.

Seeing Tia Nguyen finally imprisoned gave palpable satisfaction to Antoine. Just seeing the woman made him want to throttle her. Her presence made the right side of his face burn in sympathy with his memory.

It was supposed to be easy. That was what he had been told when he suited up to join his reaction team with Rigault Corporate Security all those years ago. The Hestian radicals were making a play for their revolution and it was a chance to crush them and restore respect in the existing government. It would remind the Hestians that the HBC was in charge and they had nothing to change that. He'd insisted on his part, too, as a Rigault who was a nephew of the Company's president. He'd brought with him the pistol his Uncle Ferdinand had crafted as a gift. He remembered the anticipation as the fighting began and the orders went out. The sense that he was playing his part in ensuring Rigault greatness.

But the damned Hestians had to be stubborn. They fought even when it was hopeless. Even when their own leadership fell into the trap.

He remembered his team falling to that cell. Getting shot before he could finish off the cell leader. Her defiant glare before she pulled the trigger on his own gun. and waking up weeks later with one eye intact. The pity he received from others, from his co-workers, from his family always galled him.

Now he was above pity. Especially for those who wronged him as Nguyen had.

The system let out the long beep of an incoming GalNet call, using the company's dedicated QET network. He reached over and tapped the key to receive the incoming call.

His screen changed to show the image of his cousin Rene. Rene Rigault was his age, but by dint of his education and experience in the company's financial and administrative departments, he was CEO of Rigault Heavy Industries. His dark blue suit reflected this status, as did the opulence of his office. The bright orange star of New Gabon's solar system illuminated his office in the upper floors of Rigault's corporate HQ on the family's homeworld. The skyline of Bekeleville, the planetary capital, dominated the view of the office windows.

"Antoine, cousin, it is good to hear from you," Rene said. His eyes were of the same blue color shared by most of the Rigault family. Facially, they shared characteristics, with the same broad facial shape and location of their noses, although the family differences from their non-Rigault mothers provided contrasts. "Everything is going well?"

"It is, cousin," Antoine replied. "The company projects are proceeding. The ships are completing shakedown runs, and we could go to proper deployment in a month." Antoine grinned. "And my agent successfully captured Tia Nguyen at Allentown Station."

"Wonderful news. The stock prices will go up when the HBC makes the formal statement. Security on Hestia is so important these days, especially to our company's prosperity." Rene folded his hands on his desk. "She will prove useful if this is done right."

Antoine's smile took an edge. "It will be handled appropriately, cousin, don't worry."

"I am taking a risk in letting you handle this," Rene reminded him. "The others know what she did to you in the uprising. They won't be so trusting, and if something goes wrong, you'll be easily blamed. The HBC's wishes are clear in the matter and you must see to them. She is more useful to us as an amnestied ex-radical than a martyr, Antoine. Think of the family and our company, and see to it."

"You needn't worry, cousin," Antoine insisted, keeping the smile on his face. "She will sign the papers."

"Thank you, cousin. And good luck with the next Business Council meeting, a few of them may be getting cold feet."

"I'll keep them on board."

That seemed to mollify Rene, who quickly excused himself for a board meeting. His image disappeared from the screen.

Antoine's smile turned vicious. Don't worry, Rene. I will handle this and keep your name clear. With that thought, he keyed a secure sublight link to Thyssenbourg.

When the other end picked up, he spoke promptly. "Doctor, it's time to move on to the next phase. And I have the perfect test subject for you..."


Trinidad Station grew larger on the main bridge display of the Shadow Wolf as she burned in on final approach to the station. Henry observed the traffic monitoring holotank before him and noted the amount of ship traffic was even higher than their last visit a couple of months before.

Cera whistled. "Business is boomin' for the Trinidaders. Bein' recognized as a sovereign system's worked out, looks like."

"Lusitania being the first world to do it helped," Piper added.

Across from her, Yanik remained uncomfortably seated in Tia's usual place. Normally, he spent command watches in Henry's seat, not taking Tia's place, and it was a sharp reminder of what they were missing. The medical cast holding his damaged shoulder and arm in place reinforced the sentiment.

He broke his silence. "We are cleared for Arm 3, Docking Bay 4."

"We didn't forget the gift we usually give the traffic control boss, did we?" asked Piper.

"It would be irrelevant in this case," Yanik said. "I am told Chief Khánh is responsible for the dock being assigned."

"She would be," Henry murmured. "Take us in."

"Aye, Captain."

Cera brought the ship in with her usual precision and skill. After guiding them through the station's traffic, she flew the ship into the dock and brought it down in place. "Picture perfect as always," she bragged.

Piper grinned at that. "You always are on point with these landings."

"Umbilicals are attaching. We are now on the station's power and life support system." Yanik's talons tapped at the controls in front of him. "Engineering is standing down reactors." Yanik noted an incoming message and tapped the receiving key. Text appeared on his screen. "Chief Khánh wishes to see us. Immediately."

"I expected so," Henry said. "Get the crew together in the galley."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Linh Khánh arrived in the jumpsuit of a dockmaster of Trinidad Station, an engineer's suit with plenty of pouches and places for the tools she usually employed. Right now, she had few, though, and the dark bags under her eyes and the increased paleness of her skin spoke of the emotional stress she was operating under.

The moment she was in the galley, she spoke with uncharacteristic harshness. "What are you doing to get her back?" she demanded.

"First, we need to figure out where she is," Pieter said.

"That's easy. Hestia." Linh scowled. "The HBC announced the arrest half a day ago."

"Did they say anything else about it?" Miri asked. "Like where it happened?"

"No, only that the Hestian government secured Tia's arrest with the benefit of 'off-world sources'."

"More like they hired that bastard Kepper to do their dirty work, and he held an entire enclosed colony hostage to get away," Piper groused. "He planted a nuclear charge on Allentown Station's dome to make them let him go."

Linh nodded. "I'm not surprised, and the HBC would never admit that. It'd cause them too much trouble. I wouldn't be shocked if they bribed or intimidated Allentown Station into being quiet over it." Her head turned so her eyes could meet Henry's face. "So what are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "I won't leave her to suffer whatever they've got planned, but getting onto Hestia and off with her is going to be hard. They'll be on the lookout for the Shadow Wolf, and we'll pull the ship apart trying to burn in and out."

"Hestia's got a jump-capable Lagrange system, solar and lunar," Linh pointed out. "You can jump right into the lunar L5 or L4 point and back out the same way. The L2's also good, although further from Hestia."

"I'm already factoring that," he replied. "Truth is, we lost up to another year of service life trying to catch Kepper back at Allentown. Using the fusion drive is out."

"I'll see what I can do about shoring up the systems. Maybe I can get you some more time," Linh answered. "Because I'm going with you."

That took the entire crew by surprise. Henry could see Samina was particularly put off by it. "But, your position?" she asked.

"I've put in for a leave of absence with the Dockworkers Guild."

Samina's surprise turned to something like horror. "But… you're next in line to be the Guild Secretary. You've worked for years to get there. If you take a leave, it could cost you guild votes when Secretary Sathasivam's term ends."

"I know, Samina, trust me, I know. I'm possibly throwing away a decade of work if I do this." Linh's jaw set. "But I'm alive today because of Tia. I'm not abandoning her to be humiliated and executed by those corporate bastards."

"You'll be welcome. We'll need the help," Henry said as he offered his hand.

Linh took it.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

With the ship securely docked and the meeting over, the crew of the Shadow Wolf broke up to see to other routines. What structural repairs were possible were at the top of the list of things to get to, and a rotating schedule was set up to see to them.

For Miri, her initial concern was Oskar's admonition that she work her leg out to restore her muscle function completely. So she made a round of both decks with a scanner to find structural weaknesses and other damages for the others to fix.

Her mind wasn't entirely on her job. She found herself thinking of Kepper, of the guilt she felt for the fact that he was still breathing.

It wasn't simply that he'd once hunted her, but what he'd done during the hunt. An innocent life he'd callously taken for expediency's sake, for which he went unpunished because they needed him to find the League's Pluto Base. For all his evil acts, that needless murder of Vasily stood out as one that Miri felt needed to be brought to account, in addition to abducting Tia and maiming Yanik.

When her round was finished, she returned to her quarters aboard the ship. With all of her guilt and determination driving her, Miri quickly came to her decision. She activated her computer terminal and brought up the GalNet system. It was easy to find the link to the Russian Old-Rite Church in the Harr'al city of Sektatsh.

After half a minute, the image shifted to show an older bearded man in the casual wear of a Russian Old Believer priest. She recognized him as Father Nikolai, the Church's missionary to Sektatsh.

He clearly recognized her too. "Miss Gaon, it is good to see you well," he said in accented English. "God has been kind."

"He often is," Miri observed quietly. "I'm happy to see you're still doing well despite the risks on Harron."

Nikolai laughed. "The slavers know to leave us alone. One call and the Tokarevs will bring Morozova, and they fear her. What can I do for you?"

"I've run into the man who killed your convert Vasily, Father," she answered. His pleasant expression vanished. An old pain showed in the priest's eyes. "Please get word to the Tokarev brothers. He works for someone on Hestia now, one of the corporations most likely. He abducted one of my shipmates for his new employers."

Nikolai nodded slowly. "I will inform the brothers immediately. And I will make prayers for your shipmate's safe return."

"Thank you, Father Nikolai. We may all need those prayers before this is done."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Toward the ship's stern, Samina worked quietly on a fully-formed fracture in a visible structural beam. It was careful work to fill the fracture in with the ceramic injector, a bulky piece of equipment used to introduce a chemically-treated ceramic that would mold to fill the fracture and restore strength to the damaged member.

Piper stood beside her, maintaining a scan to ensure they didn't overfill the fracture. When the scanner told her it was ready, she said, "There, you're good."

Samina pulled her fingers off the trigger mechanism for the injector. Both could feel the heat radiating from the tip even before she pulled it away from the sealed fracture. "This won't last as long as you think," Samina said. "The ceramic's good for restoring some stability to the structure, but it'll give if we go under high thrust with the fusion drive again."

"I can't think of better ways for the old girl to go out than saving Tia," Piper remarked. She set a hand to the nearest bulkhead. "It'll feel wrong to be on a new ship. But I guess that's part of life." She noted the pained expression on Samina's face and winced. "Sorry. I forgot about your uncle's ship."

Samina nodded. "I understand. It's okay."

"Going to see him before we leave? He's still here, right?"

"Yes, in Quetta District." Samina nodded. "I'll have a meal with him before I go, if I can, but this is important. I have to help get the ship ready so we can rescue Tia. Uncle Ali will understand."

"I'm sure he will." As she spoke those words, Piper thought of her Grandpa Pete, her Cherokee mother's father. Her visits to his homestead in the Cherokee Nation's district on Sanctuary always proved a bright spot during her childhood and youth. She thought of how it felt to lose him to old age and sickness and felt a duty toward Samina. "Don't put it off," she urged. "Make sure you see your uncle before you go. That way, there's nothing for either of you to regret."

Their eyes met and Piper saw understanding on Samina's face. "I will," the younger woman promised.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Even before it gained acknowledged status by the worlds of Neutral Space, Trinidad Station's residents and entrepreneurs maintained a number of living establishments for visitors to their station. They didn't always fit the style of hotels on established worlds and stations, but they were a place someone could get rest if they needed it.

Of course, given how many of those visitors were pirates or something of the sort, many of these entrepreneurs adopted a mentality of not asking questions.

This suited Trapper Saxon just fine. The grizzled middle-aged man sat on one of the beds in his rented room, a disassembled Coalition pulse rifle beside him. It lacked the stopping power of modern war-built Coalition firearms, but it had the advantage of not needing ammunition, just long-lasting cells that provided the energy for the rifle's machinery. For operations like Saxon's usual runs, this suited him just fine, as it did his comrades checking on their own similar weapons.

He was interrupted by a chirp from his link. He reached to the nightstand and clawed away with his fingers until he gripped the plastic slab of his link. The contact triggered the link to generate a holographic image, presenting to him his employer.

"No more waiting," said Antoine Rigault. "Take out Linh Khánh, however you can. I want her on her way here or dead."

Trapper nodded. "Better pay if she's alive, right?"


"Then we'll see you again when we've got her in hand," he said. "Saxon out."

The image disappeared. Trapper turned to his watching subordinates. "Alright, fellows, we've got our green light. Phillips, let's go over the options again. We can't make mistakes if we're to get the objective to Hestia."


After a night of fitful sleep, Tia awoke to find a meager breakfast on a tray at the floor of her cell. She considered whether to have any of it or if she should attempt a hunger strike. The growling of her stomach tempted her toward putting such a strike off for later, which made her all the more determined to start one now.

The choice was taken from her when guards showed up at her cell. Antoine walked into view. He glanced down at her uneaten breakfast and chuckled. "Well, we can spare the expense of food this way," he remarked. "Nutrient IVs are cheaper anyway. We'll see to that later, but right now, you have an appointment, Prisoner Nguyen."

"It'd better be with my counsel," Tia said. "After all, the HBC honors the Hestian Republic's constitution, doesn't it? I get an appeal of my conviction, especially as it was made in-absentia."

"Of course," Antoine replied smoothly. "You will be provided with legal counsel at the earliest opportunity. But for the time being, you are being held under your conviction for rebellion. Unless you are willing to sign the amnesty, of course?"

"Never," she vowed.

"I thought not." Antoine nodded to the guards. "Let's see about that appointment. It may persuade you otherwise."

Tia remained seated on her cot, arms crossed, while the guards opened the cell door. They moved in and placed cuffs on her ankles and wrists, linking them to a chain as before. They pushed her from the cell and compelled her to follow Antoine.

Their trip took them from the cell block into the rest of the complex. A trip through a security checkpoint made it clear they were entering a highly secured section, blocked off from access by regular personnel of the complex.

At first, she felt little concern about this. But as they passed through a dark gray corridor, she heard a chorus of moans and groans coming from adjacent rooms. As they walked past one door, she glanced in long enough to see a Hestian man strapped onto a gurney, staring listlessly at the ceiling. A second room had a woman in the same condition, moaning loudly but incoherently, not responding to the world around her at all.

By this point, she went from mildly curious to profoundly disturbed. What was going on here? Were these people drugged in some way? What was Rigault planning to do to her here? A sick feeling came to her stomach that she was facing something beyond her earlier expectations.

They took a couple of turns and entered another hall. The second door to the right was opened and led into a sterile white room. In the center was a single table with arms. Restraint straps were built into the arms and other sections. Figures in billowing white suits with face masks were arrayed around the table and a couple trays of equipment.

Tia had a split second to realize what was about to happen before the guards grabbed her and forced her over to the table. Her wrists were uncuffed, but in their grasp, her resistance was merely perfunctory. They pushed her onto her belly and strapped her wrists onto the arms of the table. The other straps were put into place to hold down her waist, ankles, arms, legs, and back. An oval head piece kept her face from being covered.

The straps had little give, holding her tightly to the table against all of her struggling. She heard the low whine of a battery motor and felt the table shift beneath her, tilting upward so her face was presented upward from the floor. A grinning Antoine Rigault came into her vision. The look on his face betrayed not just pleasure, but a particularly vicious pleasure.

He began speaking. "The problem with Hestians is that you don't understand your place in the galaxy," he said. "You are mere dregs. Unproductive, backward dregs, a weight on us all. And the sad thing is, you made yourselves this way."

"Like hell," Tia growled.

Her interruption went ignored. "You were given this planet and all of its mineral wealth, and you wasted it so you could farm." Contempt dripped from Antoine's voice as he leveled that accusation. "It took my great-grandfather along with men and women like him to see the potential of this world. But instead of accepting them, of recognizing what they were trying to do and choosing to get their share of the wealth, your people tried to get in the way."

"You just wanted to mine our world for minerals. You don't care about making it somewhere we can live on!" Tia shouted in retort. "You don't have a right to tell us how to use our own world! That's our right! Ours!"

"And you signed those rights to us." Antoine lifted a finger to her face. "We paid for those rights fairly. My family, the other businesses, we paid the fair market value of the time, and since then, you and your kind have tried to forbid us what is ours by right and by law."

"Nobody had a right to sell you our world. Nobody," Tia insisted. "You took us by bribery and deceit."

"Believe what you will. Soon, it will not matter." The vicious grin didn't go away. Whatever was about to happen, it would be bad, and all Tia could do was steel herself against the unknown fate coming for her. "Soon, we won't have to worry about your little rebellions, your sabotage, your strikes. Hestians will do what they were born to do. Work."

"We're not your slaves," Tia hissed.

He glanced beyond her, ignoring her remark. "Looks like you're ready to begin."

Tia snarled. She pursed her lips, collected what saliva she could, and spat it out as harshly as possible. The spit struck Antoine squarely on the cheek, just below his right eye.

Yet his vicious grin didn't disappear. He showed no reaction at all, merely continuing to grin at her and cause her momentary satisfaction to drain away from the lack of response. Finally, he turned and left with most of the guards. Two remaining uniformed men took up positions at the door while it shut.

Moments passed. Her anticipation of what was to come next twisted her stomach. The sheer uncertainty was worse than the knowledge they were about to do something to her, something likely terrible.

Heat came to the back of her neck, swiftly building to a sharp pain, as if someone were driving a drill into her spine. The pain followed her spine to the base of her back. She fought the pain, tried to ignore it, tried not to give Rigault or his people any satisfaction.

But swiftly, the pain became too much. She screamed.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After leaving the operating room, Antoine used a silk handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the spittle from his face. He was used to Hestians spitting at him, but this time, he didn't need to lash back to satisfy the insult. The scream that the door couldn't quite contain was ample satisfaction.

He went to the next door over to the observation room for the surgical theater. Inside, Tia's screams were dampened further by the material of the transparent alloy separating them from the other room. A host of eyes watched the operation, belonging to the Rigault corporate officials and observers from other companies he'd invited.

It was clear from their faces that they were not as sanguine about the display as he was. Partly, it was because he wasn't new to this, while they were. Partly, it was because they lacked the harshness that he felt within his very bones for the prisoner and her entire people. Many of them still thought of Hestians as just somewhat troublesome employees, not ungrateful, hateful wretches as he knew them to be.

One of them finally spoke up. "My God, can't they put her under?"

Antoine found his seat nearby. He turned to the man, another Rigault official like himself. "The doctor needs to observe the immediate effects of the implant. Sedatives would interfere." Antoine clapped the man on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Mister Gaston, once this procedure is perfected, it'll be of benefit to our company and all of the others."

"This does seem rather extreme…" That remark came from another attendee, belonging to one of the other mega-corps. "The Hestians have been troublesome, but I'm not sure the Board will sign off on procedures like this. The public relations backlash—"

"—will be mitigated by operating conditions once we begin implementation," Antoine interrupted. "And don't feel too sorry for this one. She is with the Hestian Worker's Party and fought in the uprising. You know their claimed politics. She would, if given the power, have every single one of us shot just for being with our companies. Our families would suffer the same fate. She's brought this on herself."

The reminder of the uprising helped steady the group. Nobody wanted to see that happen again. This would make Antoine's goal much, much easier to attain.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The operation was the most excruciating experience Tia could imagine living through. At several points, she thought she would pass out, just for the sensation to relent.

At first, she didn't notice it was over. The heat in her neck persisted. The bite of the agony subsided over the course of several seconds. Her spine settled into a low, tingling sensation while she felt the dampness of her jumpsuit, now coated with sweat.

The heat in her neck settled further, becoming little more than a remnant warmth. She felt the tension of the straps holding her down slacken. One by one, they fell away, freeing her from the table. Strong arms brought her to a sitting position.

One of the surgeons stood in front of her. He held a board in one arm, settled between his elbow and hand. "Raise your right arm," he instructed in English. She found his accent unfamiliar.

Tia glared at her tormentor but gave no other reaction. She certainly wasn't going to obey.

After five seconds, the surgeon asked, "You will not raise your arm?"

Her glare was joined by a defiant snarl. "Make me."

Instead of answering her, he turned his attention to the board. His free left hand moved over the surface of it, indicating it was a digital tablet of some kind with a touch screen. He spent several moments sliding his fingers around.

Tia felt her right arm muscles shift. The limb rose in place. She stared in incomprehension as it came up to make her elbow level with her shoulder. She ordered the arm down, but it didn't budge. She had no control over the limb at all. What's going on? What's doing this?

The man's finger moved over the board again. Now her left arm started moving. She tried to force it back down, but she couldn't. It was like her muscles in her arms were no longer listening to her brain. Her eyes widened at the surgeon. How is he doing this?!

"Stand," he ordered.

This time, her lack of obedience stemmed more from the shock of losing control of her arms, not any stubborn defiance. Regardless, the surgeon was soon moving his finger over the board. Tia felt her leg muscles and back muscles move into operation. She slid off the table, her arms still lifted up as they were, and stood before him. "What have you done to me?!" she demanded.

Instead of answering, there were more movements of the man's finger. Her leg muscles shifted again. She took a step forward. Then another step with the other leg. Neither was moving under her control.

For several seconds she found herself walking without wanting to. Something had complete control of her body. She could feel the slight burn in her muscles as they picked up speed, leading her in a circle around the room. She couldn't stop her legs from finishing the circle, bringing her to a stop in front of the surgeon.

The entire experience made her grow pale. She felt like she was stuck in a bad dream, unable to move, unable to act. Her body moved under something else's control.

That control resumed. This time, she found herself walking to the exit door. The guards allowed her to pass with quiet expressions on their faces. She moved out into the hall and to the next door over. Her right arm came up and her hand pressed the opening key, giving her entry, and her legs started moving again to walk her into the room. She was turned to face a crowd of suited types—corporate officers, she suspected—including a grinning Antoine Rigault. She tried to speak, but her throat was stuck. Her vocal cords would not tighten. Her tongue would not move.

The surgeon stepped up beside her. "The control system can be programmed to a range of motions, and with more testing, those motions can be for anything," the man said. "Further testing is necessary before we get to the threshold of more complicated control, such as thought limitation or speech control."

Tia noted the other faces in the room didn't seem to know how to react. She wanted to scream at them, to demand to know what this was, why they were doing it, but something kept her from using any muscles associated with speaking. Her own body was refusing any control.

What have they done to me?! she thought, her mind panicked at the concept of being trapped helplessly as it now was.

Antoine stood and applauded. "Continue working on that with this subject." His eyes met hers with malicious glee. "We'll need her cooperation soon, Doctor."


The doors of the transport car opened and Samina was the only one to step out of the pair in front of her. She took in the sight of the Quetta District station with a twinge of nostalgia. Much of it looked the same as it always had, over those years when she would come through while serving as a "fetch tech" to the station's dockworkers.

But there were some slight differences. As she walked the familiar route to her old home, she noticed a few new faces, while a few old ones were missing. One of the street merchants who always sold hand-crafted goods was gone from his stall, replaced by a kebab seller whose product, at least, smelled of home.

Things change as Allah wills, she reminded herself. Given the condition of the Shadow Wolf, even greater changes loomed over her future. I only hope saving Tia is His will too...

Upon her arrival at Uncle Ali's apartment, she knocked softly. She was adjusting her blue hijab when the door opened. Ali looked through the crack at her and a grin crossed his snow-bearded face. "Ah, praise to God. My little niece returns home at last."

Samina smiled at him and accepted his embrace. Given her feelings, it felt good to again feel her uncle's love for her. "It's good to see you again, Uncle. How are you doing?"

"I am as well as I can be," Ali answered. "Come, come along, the chai will be done soon, and some nihari will soon arrive from Mansoor's shop."

"I can pay if you need," she offered.

"Nonsense! You have earned your pay by the sweat of your brow. Allah forbid I take anything from you, it is not how it should be."

"But it wouldn't be a burden. And you cared for me while I grew up," Samina pointed out.

"I did that as my obligation as your uncle, so that the souls of my brother and his wife could rest," Ali insisted. "The Zakat meets my needs well enough. No, little one, save your money and spend it wisely. Perhaps one day you will be the one owning a space vessel, Inshallah."

"Perhaps." The idea of having her own wasn't unappealing, but it was also not what was on Samina's thoughts for now. Tia kept coming back in her thoughts. The resulting pain led her to focus on her uncle. "Do you think of going back?" she asked. "To Jinnah?"

Ali didn't answer right away. He was spared by the gentle whistling of the pot on his stove. He pulled the pot off and poured himself and Samina fresh cups of chai. He tested his with a sip before handing the other cup to Samina. She took her own careful sip, making sure not to burn her tongue on the substance. It was hot, but just shy of being burning hot. She savored the flavor before swallowing.

Ali finished his own drink. "Jinnah. I think about it, sometimes, little one. At least, it would be nice to die on the soil our family has dwelled upon for so many generations." He shook his head quietly. "But I will remain here for the time being."

"Why do you want to stay here, Uncle?" Samina asked, truly curious. "You always talked about wanting to live on a planet again."

"The community," he replied. "They took the two of us in and made us their own. All of my friends are here, not on Jinnah. I would be among strangers. Whatever gripes I have about station-living, in the end, I would rather continue here than be alone and stuck in disorder." He frowned and shook his head. "I have heard and read about how things are in the Coalition. The division between the Peace Union and the victory parties. The Coalition is in turmoil, and I am too old for turmoil."

"I understand," Samina said. "I just didn't want you staying here purely for me."

"Yet I would." He took another sip of the chai. "But I think that is not what is bothering you, is it? I can see you are upset, Samina."

Samina sipped at her chai and considered the container of nihari that Ali set before her. "Someone took one of the crew," she said. "Chief Khánh's old friend Tia, our First Mate. They turned her over to the Hestian government or something." Samina felt tears form in her eyes. She couldn't hold her feelings back any longer. "We tried to catch them, but they got away. We… we just couldn't push the ship enough. It's too worn down. There was nothing I could do…" She sniffled.

Ali reached over and put a reassuring hand on her. His eyes shined with sympathy. "You did what you could, Samina. Nobody, not even Allah, could expect more. Have faith He will protect your comrade."

"She's been a great First Mate for us all. She saved Chief Khánh's life. She deserves better," Samina insisted, wiping away tears. Her heart grew heavy with fear of the worst outcomes. "But I feel like I might never see her again."

"I know. Still, I have faith you will. Captain Henry and your crew will get her back."

"We're going to try."

"Then you will see your friend again, inshallah," Ali assured her. "Now let's enjoy this fine nihari, before it gets cold."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The district of Trinidad Station closest to the docking arms was officially the Receiving District, but for many who knew the station, the appellation "Spacers' District" was deemed more accurate. A number of the services provided in the district were explicitly for the benefit of visiting spacers as well as the dock personnel.

This included the staple of all spaceports, specifically, drinking holes. Whether you called them a pub or bar or tavern, they catered to the age-old desire of spacers to get away from their duties through gentle—or not so gentle—inebriation.

Henry chose the establishment closest to the lifts back to the docking arm. It was named Mad Jack's Watering Hole, and given the paraphernalia inside, the name was clearly from "Mad Jack" Dulaney, the official Commodore of Trinidad Station's fleet of modified privateers and re-militarized surplus warships. The atmosphere inside was just shy of rowdy. Tables were taken up by groups of spacers from various ships. Henry was certain most were from the privateer fleet, so they were particularly loud and had war stories to share.

The bar had a number of open stools. Henry slipped onto one and quickly got the attention of the bartender, an older slender man with prosthetic arms. "Bourbon, neat," he called out. His eyes passed over the wall and the bottles there. He watched the bartender retrieve the bottle he needed and a tumbler glass, which he provided to Henry, filling the glass until Henry instructed him to cease with a gesture. He provided his chit to be scanned for payment from his personal accounts and took a sip.

He was having the glass refilled when Linh entered the pub. Her arrival drew some uncertain looks from the patrons. Linh wasn't a spacer, and the people here knew that, but most of them knew better than to protest. Dockworkers like Linh were why they had the time to come to the pub, after all, and smart spacers didn't want to cross the people who saw to their ships' needs while they were in dock.

Henry turned to face her as she slid onto the stool beside him. Her eyes narrowed at the expression on his face and the glass in his hand. "Tia told me you were having trouble, but I thought she might be exaggerating a little. Now I'm not so sure."

Henry took a small drink from his glass and said nothing.

"Just what the hell is your problem, Jim?" Linh demanded. Her tone pulled no punches, a cutting harshness to her words. "This self-pity act isn't right. It isn't what your crew needs, it isn't what you need. It's damned well not what Tia needs right now."

He shot another glance her way but said nothing. Could say nothing. She was right.

His silence invited her to continue. "You have a good crew, your ship still flies, and you'll easily earn enough to replace her when the time comes. Stop acting as if your life is over!"

"I don't want another ship, dammit," he growled in response. "That ship? It's our ship." The intensity of his expression gave way to the bitter reality. "It was our ship, anyway."

"Your uncle."

"He left her to me, entirely. Even before he… he died." Henry took another drink, as if the alcohol could wash away the raw pain building in his chest. "But it was still ours. We bought the Wolf. We put her back together. She's the last piece I have of him. Once she's gone…"

Linh swallowed. As she was sitting to his right, it was her organic left hand that reached up and touched his shoulder. "Tia told me how close you were to your uncle. She admired him too. That tells me he wasn't the kind of man who would want to see you like this."

"Oh, he wasn't. Doesn't change anything." Henry pushed the mostly empty glass away for the moment. "Fact is, I've never been sure I was worthy of him. Of any of them. Uncle Charlie. Tia. Cera. All of them. They deserve the best. And that's not me."

Linh shook her head. "I don't accept that," she insisted. "Not after everything you've done. Rallying the privateers to stop the League's plot against Lusitania. Clearing your name in the CDF and stopping the rogue general. You did all that. Hell, you even sweet-talked a Tash'vakal clan into letting you go."

"I didn't have a choice," he answered. "Doesn't make me a good man. Just a coward with a lot of luck."

"Is that really how you see yourself, Jim?"

"It's the harsh truth," he said. "A lot of people died to stop Erhart. They might've lived if I'd stood up to him back then instead of giving in."

"If you'd gone to prison, you wouldn't have brought your crew together." A worried expression crossed Linh's face. "Tia wouldn't have found a new path in life, wouldn't have rebuilt her pride and spirit."

Henry didn't answer that point directly. "That's what you're really thinking about, isn't it? Tia. You're afraid for her, just like all of us."

"I have good reason to be." Linh shook her head. "She needs you to get your act together if we're going to save her. There's no telling what they're doing to her, but I know it's bad. The corps back home can get vicious when dealing with resistance."

"I know. I was on Hestia before I met Tia, cargo run." Henry shook his head. "I saw the hangings and the public humiliations. I saw everything."

"We have to get her back," Linh insisted. "She's… she's the last of my comrades."

"We will," Henry promised. "Coward or not, I'll make sure of that."

"Thank you."

He gestured toward his glass. "Want to share one?"

"No, I need to get back to work," she said, sliding off the stool. "I have a lot to get finished before the Shadow Wolf can head back out." The look on her face turned pensive. "I think maybe you should call it quits too."

"I will. In a bit," he promised. "See you at the dock."

Linh let out a breath and departed.

Henry watched her go before he returned his attention to the now-empty glass. The bartender approached and took up the bottle of bourbon. "More?"

He wanted more. Really wanted more. The conversation and the emotions dredged up made him want just a bit more, to take the edge off.

Which was how he knew it was time to quit.

"No thanks," he said aloud.

The bartender nodded and took the empty glass. He handed Henry back his credit chit after scanning it to finalize the transaction. Henry pocketed the chit and stood up. He recognized he was at that fine line, not quite drunk but not entirely sober.

Charlie wouldn't want to see me like this, he thought. If only it didn't hurt so damn much.

He stepped out of the Watering Hole. The street was empty. Nearby was the base of one of the tubes connecting the station to its docking arms. He walked toward it, wondering if he'd catch up to Linh before she returned to the docks.

He entered the tube station and heard unexpected sounds coming from the lift car. He rushed ahead and turned the corner to look in.

There were three men in the car, each wearing what looked like tactical light armor or recon suits, rifles slung into place behind their shoulders. Two of them had sidearms up, pointing downward.

The third was on the floor, his hands pulling tight a tie-strap cord around the wrists of his captive.


His approach wasn't unnoticed. One of the three armed men raised his head toward Henry. Without saying a word, he raised his gun up. Henry ducked back around the corner just before the man fired. A red bolt passed by, heating the air as it went. Plasma gun. Maybe helium. Henry pulled his CP-2520 from his waist holster and peeked around the corner, just to be forced back by the other gunman shooting as well.

There were no bolts after this one. Instead came the familiar metallic "shunk" of the lift door closing. Henry looked back and saw the display was showing the car ascending. He pulled his link from his pocket and moved on to the next available car. "Henry to Shadow Wolf. Anyone there?!"

The answer came a moment later. "Vidia here, what's the problem?"

"Someone's trying to kidnap Chief Khánh!" he shouted while holstering his pistol. This freed his right hand to activate the lift control. The doors closed and the car ascended after the prior one. "Get station security on the link, and anyone available in position to block their escape!"


Like any spacecraft or space station, Trinidad Station had a central control room to oversee the station's operating systems and preserve the hundreds of thousands of lives aboard the station.

The large form of Mavik Ts'shris loomed in the central pit of the room. The older Saurian's ruby red eyes went from display to display as the news came in of the kidnapping of one of the Dockworker Guild's senior officials. As head of the Security Guild, responsibility came down on him to stop their escape and find out precisely what was going on.

He pointed a taloned finger forward at one of the station minders before listing off a quick series of orders. "Have all security teams in the docking arms in position. Call up further teams to the other cars. All departures and arrivals are canceled until further notice. And shut down that transport car!"

A host of replies answered him. Everyone started putting his commands into effect.

"Communications, connect me to Captain Henry's link, now," he added. "His crew's links too. Whatever they know of this situation, I want to know it too!"

"Yes, sir!" called out the comm tech nearby.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

A shudder filled the lift car carrying Linh and her captors to their escape. A frustrated grunt came from one of her attackers. He pulled out a portable computer unit and activated its holoscreen.

While she watched this, she also struggled against her restraints. The adrenaline rush she felt went a long way to focusing her for this task. Her ankles were too strongly secured, but she had hope for her wrists. The strength in her prosthetic right hand and forearm might be enough to break the tie-strap. Her left wrist burned as she struggled against the strap.

"Wallace, what's our status?" the lead kidnapper demanded.

"Almost got them isolated," the hacker answered. "The OS on the station's been updated, but the hardware can't run the latest counter-intrusion apps. I should be able to break their security in a minute."

"You bastards aren't getting away!" Linh shouted. The longer she delayed them, the more time for Mavik to get people in place. "I don't know who you sons of bitches work for, but Trinidad Station takes care of its own! Mad Jack and his crews will—"

The third man swirled about. His fist shot forward and slammed into Linh's jaw and face. She didn't have any bones broken, but she tasted the sharp tang of blood in her mouth from the cut on her lip. "Rigault's not paying us enough for this one," her assailant growled. He brought his gun up to her temple. "Let's kill her and get the proof of death for the bounty."

Hearing Rigault named was no surprise to her at this point. They must want me alive too. To hold over Tia? She resumed her struggling without giving her potential executioner any attention.

Instead of answering the suggestion of killing her verbally, the leader's fist came up and smashed into the man's face. He stumbled backward and hit the floor of the transport car. "That's not happening," the man roared. "The client wants her alive if at all possible, and the bounty's better. Point that gun at her again and I'll break your damned fingers."

The other man's nose dripped blood down his face. Whatever his fierceness before, it was clear he believed his boss. "Sorry, Trapper."

"Ha!" The hacker's crow of triumph came with another shudder in the car. They were moving again. Linh cursed under her breath. "The local yokels got shit on my mad skills!"

"What're you doing to keep them from getting control back?" asked Saxon.

"Keeping them busy, boss." The hacker laughed. "I just locked down their entire transport car system with encrypted access commands. I've also thrown in a few malware apps to mess with power systems and comms. That'll teach the yokels to mess with us."

"Good job, Wallace. Now let's get to the Ghast and collect our damn paychecks."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Henry knew something was wrong when he felt his car shudder and cease moving. He held his link up. "Station Control, this is Jim Henry. My car just stopped. What's going on?"

No response came. Henry checked his link's display and it showed the connection as inactive. The station couldn't connect to his link. He tapped at it to transfer to the Shadow Wolf's comm system, but it didn't connect either.

Sabotage. The snatch team must have a hacker.

That was bad news for Linh. If they had a hacker who could lock up the station's systems, it meant they had a real shot at escaping. Hopefully, the others are in position to hold them, he thought while considering his own options. Dammit, I owe it to Tia and Linh to do something. I'm not going to just sit here while they get away.

A desperate plan formed in his mind. He went over to the marked emergency compartment at the side of the car and pulled out an emergency vac-suit. The softsuit fit over his clothes easily enough, with the bottom of the boots possessing a magnetic layer for EVA movement on an external surface. The digital HUD display on the softsuit faceplate told him he had four hours of oxygen. He grabbed the car's fire extinguisher and went to the manual hatch control. It opened for him and exposed the lever to open the door, complete with the warning signs to remind riders of the danger this presented. Henry hooked an arm around the nearby rail before yanking the lever down.

The door hissed as it opened, and a roar briefly filled the car. The atmosphere in the lift was sucked right out, nearly bringing Henry with it if not for the strength with which he held to the rail.

Once the pull ceased, Henry let go. With the artificial gravity still active in the car, all he had to do was walk out the door. He did so carefully to avoid drifting too far from the transport line leading to the docking arm. He lowered the nozzle on the fire extinguisher to point it toward Trinidad Station and squeezed the handle.

White spray erupted from the nozzle, releasing the flame retardant chemicals with enough force to propel Henry with growing speed toward the docking arms. He carefully controlled the direction of the nozzle to keep himself on course, an act that demanded greater focus than usual. He felt grateful that he'd resisted that extra shot of whiskey, even if it left him sober enough to be scared of pulling this stunt. I'm just drunk enough to think this is a good idea!

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The only moving transport car for Trinidad Station came to a stop at Arm 1. Wallace triggered the machine to open its door, allowing the team to step out of the car.

The sentiment of "So far, so good" came to mind for Saxon, even if his professional experience left him well aware that it wasn't a done deal until he was actually off the station with his quarry. His other man, Morales, hefted their captive over his shoulders. The captive glared hate at them, but Saxon figured he could see the terror behind it. She had an idea of why she was marked, and she didn't like it. In his experience, few did.

The long promenade of Arm 1 stretched before them. It wasn't a commercial area so much as it was dedicated to getting cargo to and from the ships that came in. Old helium-3 fuel lines, meant for transferring the element in gas form, dominated the ceiling. The walls were lined with equipment stalls and the doors to the loading and repair docks. The entire arm was now in partial shadow with Wallace's sabotage messing with the station's power and control systems.

"Where's the security team?" Morales growled. "Did Tessan take 'em?"

"Yes, I did," said a voice from the gloom. A stout Harr'al looked around the corner, his rubbery face and violet eyes lit up through the faceplate of his helmet. His hands held a magnetic auto-carbine, League manufacture, one of tens of thousands of such weapons the League dumped into Neutral Space to support "social solidarity" movements or, frankly, any group willing to hurt the Coalition or pro-Coalition governments. "This way."

"Does Lisa have the Ghast ready?" Wallace asked.

"She lit the reactor up the moment you shut things down," Tessan answered. "We're good to burn out the moment we're aboard."

"Good," said Saxon. "The sooner we're in void, the sooner we get to the jump zone. Mad Jack's going to be all over us the moment he has us on scanners."

There was no time for anyone to agree. A solid beam of violet light flashed to life and struck Tessan square in the shoulder. A burst of red plasma caught him in the leg and a spark of blue light, courtesy of a charged pulse weapon, flashed just past Saxon's head. The Harr'al mercenary cried out in pain and dropped.

Saxon and his people reacted professionally, dropping low to minimize their profile as targets and rushing to the nearest available cover. In this case, the cover was the side of a collection of equipment lockers along the outer wall. They pulled the locker doors open to use as cover and raised their weapons to return fire. "Shooters are ahead, further down the arm!" Morales shouted.

Saxon glimpsed around the corner of the locker door. Despite the gloom, he could see some movement on the opposite end of the hall, behind an anti-grav crate hauler. He brought his rifle up and fired toward the hauler.

"So much for a clean getaway," Wallace groused. "Did Tessan miss any of their security?!"

"Doesn't matter," Saxon said. "We're not stopping." He jumped out of cover and dashed several steps before hitting the floor. Energy weapon fire baked the back of his head, but he'd dropped quickly enough to not get hit. He raised his rifle and poured fire at the hauler. "Suppressive fire, now!" he bellowed. "Go! Go! Go!"

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

With Arm 1 looking in his vision, Henry had a new problem: the need to decelerate.

The vast majority of space vessels these days decelerated with graviton fields. That didn't apply to a human being in a softsuit.

Henry glanced at the fire extinguisher. He'd used a lot of the contents in getting himself up to a useful speed. He had to hope the rest was enough to decelerate him enough to make mag boot contact with the side of Arm 1. He twisted himself around so that his feet were now pointing toward the docking arm, pointed the extinguisher nozzle that way, and triggered it again.

The arm still approached steadily. Not just steadily, but rapidly, and Henry's stomach threatened to leap into his throat at the prospect of hitting the arm too hard. Alternatively, if he was wrong about the remaining contents of the extinguisher, he might decelerate too much and kill his speed. The suit, being an emergency suit and not a dedicated EVA operations suit, provided him no velocity information, so he had to judge it entirely by himself. Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have had that last shot as well, he thought as he braced himself.

The extinguisher gave up the ghost with a last hiss of flame retardant. He was now officially adrift in space, or would be if he didn't manage to remain gripped to the docking arm. He watched it grow larger below his feet, at a speed he worried would be too much. He looked around to see if there was something he might yet use to grab hold…


He felt the collision jar his bones and waited for the sensation of being bounced free of the arm, left to drift helplessly in the void.

Relief flooded him at the sensation of solid surface against his feet. He looked down to confirm that, yes, the magboots were strong enough to have canceled out the reaction force of his landing.

There was little time to celebrate. For Linh's sake, every second counted. He moved across the docking arms, looking for a manual access hatch or an open dock.

There was a burst of static in his ear. "...Control to EVA suit on Arm 1. Can you hear me?" The alien guttural tone was familiar, if not the same as Henry usually heard.

"Chief Ts'shris." Henry nodded as he took another step. "I read you."

"What in the Prophet's name are you doing EVA?"

"My car was stopped. This was the fastest way to go after the kidnappers."

"Very reckless," the Saurian said, his tone mildly approving. "You've got a manual access hatch coming up, ten meters ahead and two meters toward the outer end of the docks."

To my left, then. "I hear you, on my way."

"I'm getting teams there as quickly as I can, but my Arm 1 team stopped responding, and the others are trying to get access. They've locked down most of the station transport system with cyber-attacks."

"If we're lucky, my crew got into position before the lockdown finished," he answered, moving the next meter forward. "Coming up on the hatch now."

"I'm relaying the entry code for you."

By the time Henry came up to the hatch, a code was showing on his suit's faceplate. He reached down to the hatch control pad and tapped in the alphanumeric code exactly. The controls blipped yellow for a moment before flashing green. The hatch irised open.

He lowered himself into it and hit the interior door control, sealing the hatch behind him. Air rushed into the room in seconds and a light on the opposite door went from red to yellow to green, at which point Henry was able to open it. He stepped through into a maintenance crew's room. EVA suits lined both sides of the wall along with tools.

Now that he was back in atmosphere, he unsealed the softsuit and peeled it off in a couple of seconds. His hand reached down to his hip holster and removed his CP-2520. The revolver-like frame of the charge chamber shined a soft blue light until he slid the indicator door to a close. Ahead of him, the sound of gunfire drew his attention and he moved on, staying to cover as he did and waiting to get a shot.

He found the gun battle well underway. The familiar signatures of Vidia's xaser, Brigitte's plasma blaster, and Piper's own charged particle pistol were lighting up the hall from behind a dormant anti-grav crate hauler, answered by the familiar roar of League mag-carbines. Good job! He felt a jolt of pride in his crew getting into position in time.

Through the dull light, Henry could notice some of the figures in cover ahead, including one bearing a body. One was further ahead of the others, creeping closer to his people, but the others were still in cover.

To maintain the element of surprise, he kept his footfalls restrained, moving forward quietly until he was confident of his aim. He lifted the gun and pointed to the second man in cover, the one not holding anyone. His finger stroked the trigger.

Blue light erupted from the muzzle of his gun, zipping across the distance at the speed of a lightning bolt and catching his target unaware. The figure crumbled to the ground with a cry. Another male voice shouted, "Shooter from behind! He got Wallace!"

The lead figure moved ahead, a quick little dash before he could be targeted. Henry tried to get a bead on him but missed. He was forced back into cover by the second man's carbine fire. He looked back out in time to see an object sail from the lead figure's hand. "Grenade!" he shouted, his eyes widening with horror as it sailed on to where his crew were in cover.

He could barely make out Piper as she rose from behind the crate hauler. Her arm shot forward, and the grenade sailed from her outstretched hand, flying back toward its owner.

But it wouldn't make it all the way back. It lit up the hall, a burst of energy keyed to disrupting the neural systems of sapient beings, and he watched Piper collapse before she could get back to cover.

The kidnappers took their moment. The lead one got off from the floor and fired his carbine at the anti-grav hauler, keeping Vidia and the others pinned down, while the second man followed him, firing his weapon toward Henry. Henry tried to squeeze off shots, but his pistol didn't have the same rate of fire, and remaining in the open to squeeze off an accurate shot was nearly suicide. "Vidia! Brigitte!"

"Piper's down! Brig got hit partially! Ya okay, Captain?!"

"I am! Keep after them!" Henry slipped out of cover long enough to take a shot and lunge forward. He hit the ground just as more auto-carbine fire filled the air above him with magnetically-propelled slugs. Ahead, the violet light of Vidia's xaser lit up the hall, but their foes kept going.

Henry tried to nail the rear figure with a shot at his legs, but the man was moving too quickly, and the shot missed. He turned and sprayed fire at Henry again, forcing him to keep his head down, while his partner did the same to Vidia. Henry stood up to follow and barely got another couple of meters before he had to hit the deck again. "Ts'shrish, we need backup! They've got League mag-carbines, we've only got sidearms!" If only Yanik wasn't hurt…

"My security team from Arm 2 is almost through the manual tube. They'll be with you within five minutes."

"I'm not sure we have five minutes!"

As it soon proved, they only had three.

The two men arrived at a dock entrance. It slid open, in defiance of the lockdown, and they slipped in. As it closed, Vidia and Henry got up and rushed for it. But even as they started, Henry could see they wouldn't make it. The dock door slammed to a close before they could reach it. Henry immediately hit the control panel to open the door, but it beeped a refusal. "They're in the dock! I can't open the door!" he called into the link, his voice growing frantic. They're going to do it. They're going to get away with Linh, just as Kepper escaped with Tia.

I'm going to fail again. Just like on the Laffey.

"They've locked out remote control of the dock door," Mavik said. "We're attempting to override…"

Even as Mavik spoke, Henry heard an unexpected noise: dampened gunfire, coming from inside the dock. He couldn't quite make out the type of weapon, but it sounded like pulse rifles.

The firefight within didn't last long. Within ten seconds, all shooting ceased. Silence came from within. While Vidia held a weapon ready, Henry tried again to override the door, but it refused to budge.

Mavik's security team came up behind him. The leader, a Tal'mayan of pale blue skin, raised her hand and revealed a metal key of sorts. She pushed it into a port on the dock control panel and twisted.

The door slid open. Inside were the two kidnappers, Linh, and over half a dozen armored men carrying pulse rifles.

CDF pulse rifles.

The security team moved in and the armed men lowered their weapons. "We're friendlies!" one of them called out. "Hold your fire!"

Vidia and Henry exchanged a look. The voice was familiar.

"Don't shoot!" Linh cried out, while one of the armored men cut loose her bonds. "They saved me!"

This was good enough for Mavik's people, who lowered their own weapons. "Are you all right, Chief Khánh?" the Tal'mayan asked.

"I am." She nodded to the team.

Henry's eyes fixed on the leader of the group, who slung his rifle over his shoulder. The man reached for his helmet and removed it, pulling it over his head and the wheat-colored, slightly gray hair underneath. His mouth went dry and he was at a loss for words.

"Nice to see you again, Jim," said Felix Rothbard, his best friend and the man who spied on him for CDF Intelligence. "I think we need to talk."

"About what?"

"About Tia. Hestia." Felix's eyes hardened. "And what's really going on here."


The room was more mock warehouse than research lab. Stacks of boxes of various sizes were along the walls. Armed Rigault guards were at the door and white-coated figures ringed the area, observing scanner machines or just watching quietly as Tia moved about.

Tia's observations were all she had. Against her will, her body moved around the room. Her muscles in her legs and back shifted as she was made to pick up boxes of varying weight, just to move them or carry them across the room. Her muscles ached with strain and sweat formed on her skin, but she couldn't even complain. Her vocal cords refused to work. Nothing, in fact, would work. She could only use her senses passively, leaving her mind trapped inside of her brain. She wanted to scream, to do something of her own volition, but she couldn't. Her body wasn't her own.

A scientist stepped forward and handed her a broom. She tried to throw it back, but her body didn't respond. She felt her arms move as if of their own accord. Her hands gripped the broom. Her legs shifted to turn her body. Her arms moved again, brushing the broom over the floor repeatedly.

The pattern felt like it lasted for hours, although it was only minutes. Sweep, move, sweep, move, over and over, and she couldn't stop it.

She wanted to scream at her tormentors, but she couldn't. She wanted to cry out something, but again, she couldn't. She was utterly helpless. Trapped.

The sweeping stopped. She was made to prop the broom against the wall and move to the center of the room. There, her spine and limbs straightened to ram-rod stillness. Her muscles ached from the strictness of it. But she could not order them to relax.

Is this all I'll be? The despairing thought came to her. Just a puppet for them? A toy to test their device on? The horror of the thought grew with her conviction of how true it was. This was what Rigault and the corps had planned for her, a punishment beyond the indignities and horror Uncle Guillaume and her other surviving comrades endured after their capture. Hang me! String me up in the street, make people throw rocks at me! It's better than this!

She used to fear those ends. But now they seemed merciful. At least it was evidence she was a person. The scientists treated her like a device. A machine. No, a doll, a little meat puppet for them to toy with.

The ache in her body grew. She felt torn between fury at what they were doing and despair at her fate. A part of her chipped at her defiant resolution from before, ready to beg to be freed. To end this nightmare. This shouldn't be possible. It shouldn't be possible!

Her body relaxed. A flicker of hope rose within her that they were done, that her body would be hers again.

The lead scientist, the one who oversaw the implant procedure, stepped into her line of sight. "How do you feel, Miss Nguyen?" he asked politely.

It was the politeness that drew the snarl to Tia's face and voice. "I'm a human being, not a damned puppet!" The rage in her voice was catharsis for the experience she had just endured. "What kind of monster are you to do something like this?! To steal someone's body, to make them move and work and ache against their will! How would you like it if someone put this thing into you?!"

"Well, that's precisely what will happen," he said matter-of-factly.

Tia stared in surprise. "What?"

"When my testing is complete, when we know the technology will work to the extent I plan for it, I will have the neural control implant placed on my spine as well," he said in a neutral tone, as if explaining a fact of the weather. "Everyone will have one, in the end. Everyone."

Tia stared in incomprehension at him. Despite her desperate need to control her own body again, her voice seemed to fail her. She finally spoke with a hoarseness brought on by her shock. "Why? Why would you do something that… that monstrous?"

"It will create a better galaxy, Miss Nguyen," he answered. "A galaxy of peace and prosperity, without suffering, without conflict. It will be literally unthinkable for us." He clapped her on the shoulder. "You should feel honored at playing such a role."

"Honored?! Honored at what?! At being a guinea pig for the mega-corps?!" Tia's voice grew so violent, the armed guards tensed. She barely resisted the temptation to punch her tormentor, only managing it with the knowledge (and fear) that he could turn the implant back on and render her helpless again. "So they've dropped all the pretenses now, and you're fine with that?! Fine with making us all slaves to capitalists so they can have more profits?!"

To that, her tormentor actually laughed. "You don't know who I am at all. You're so set upon your limited vision that you don't comprehend anything beyond it."

"Comprehend nothing, I know what you are! Another corporate bully, stamping your feet on my people's backs!"

"I am not with any of your megacorps," he answered. "I do not answer to them."

"Really?" Tia laughed scornfully. "Then who is your boss, if it's not Rigault?"

He started to answer, but a tone went off in his pocket. He brought out a link and checked it. "This session has come to an end," he said. "We'll continue testing later. Guards, please escort Miss Nguyen back to her cell." He accepted a tablet from an assisting scientist and ran his fingers over it. Tia felt the tightness in her throat return, telling her that he'd blocked her from speaking again. Her legs went into motion, moving her toward the guards. One led her out of the door and the other followed her through it. They emerged into the sterile halls of the lab area and began the walk back toward the cells.

Tia strained against the motion of her own body, but as before, it was for nothing. She couldn't even show her frustration on her face.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Hestian Business Council. To some in Neutral Space, it represented the pinnacle of cooperation between private interests, for good or for ill. Corporations of great interstellar scope, cooperating to protect their mutual interests on a planet rich in valuable minerals and rare elements.

To others, it was a sign of corporate overreach. Corporations banding together to dominate a world with the force of economic and military might.

To Hestians, they were the font of oppression, the mechanism by which Hestians were compelled to work and die as serfs to the HBC's member corporations.

And to Antoine Rigault, sitting upon the Council as his family company's representative… they were a means to an end.

He sat at his place on the right side of the table, behind the nameplate for Rigault Heavy Industries. To his left, at the head of the table, sat the high-browed, narrow-faced Hans Bohlen, Chairman of the HBC and representative of the Trifid Commercial Trust. His employers were based on the Objectivist-founded colony of Galt, in Rand City, where they ran Neutral Space's second-most powerful interstellar bank behind the Interstellar Bank of Galt itself. The Trust still exceeded the Bank's actual assets, if not its economic influence, by providing its financial services for everyone, ranging from the lowest slum-dwelling service worker of Rand City to the government of the Tal'mayan Federated Union, Neutral Space's only interstellar government of note. He maintained an austere air and often acted the part of the honest intermediary between the Council's members.

Across from Rigault sat Evelyn Cooper of New Cornwall. The stout New Cornish woman was the representative of Whalen-Scobrook Electronics, a megacorp that employed Hestian labor (and that of other worlds they had holdings on) to provide high-end electronics to companies and buyers across Neutral Space, even in the Terran Coalition itself. Antoine considered her a stubborn, annoying woman, quite set in her ways, but she at least shared his dislike of Hestians.

To Rigault's right was the elderly form of Huang Lu Meng, the representative of New Guangdong Power and Electric and the most senior member of the Council, thus the most conservative. NGP&E was the unique member of the council, as it was a state-owned megacorp, responsible for powering the manufacturing economy of New Guangdong. Their interests in Hestia were mostly in Hestia's deposits of minerals needed for the conducting alloys to construct and maintain their banks of solar-powered microwave transmission stations. These stations provided their home system and other contracted systems with a source of power independent of fusion or other fuel-based sources. They further maintained a commanding interest in the helium-3 mining and refinery operations over the two gas giants of Hestia's solar system.

These four companies, including Rigault, represented the oldest members of the Council. Three more great mega-corporations of Neutral Space sat with them. Jean-Bertrand Jardeau of Cruesot Mechanical Fabrication, Sasuke Yamaguchi of Fubuki Aerospace Limited, and Carlos Ortega of Salazar Mining filled out the other seats. The three of them had their own mining concerns on the planet, either for internal company use in off-world factories or for sale on the interstellar market.

It was, all things told, an awe-inspiring display of corporate power in Neutral Space. All seven companies were among the top ten wealthiest corporations in Neutral Space. Indeed, they occupied the upper nine spots with the Interstellar Bank of Galt, with only one other company not part of their number.

That last company was the initial focus of the meeting. Bohlen spoke with his usual clipped German-accented English to report the situation. "It did not take much persuasion to have the Hestian government's Ministry of Production deny Lou Shipping's attempt to purchase the Haiphong Yards. While the company's offer was twenty-five percent above the market value, Minister Balland recognized our argument that granting that company an economic toehold on Hestia could lead to destabilizing social influences."

Antoine didn't bother to hide the snicker at Bohlen's droll delivery. None of his family wanted to see Francois "Frank" Lou get any kind of influence on his homeworld. A native-born Hestian on the Business Council was a recipe for social unrest, at the very least.

"We are perhaps being a little dogmatic about the matter," said Jardeau. The Nouveaux Champagne native spoke his English with a thicker accent than Antoine's own. "Lou's an excellent businessman and his conglomerate has immense prestige in the transport industry. Consolidating our influence in the rest of Neutral Space would come more easily with his fleets."

"If you invite that jumped-up little man into our councils, you invite the Hestians to become even more restive," Antoine growled. "He is everything they wish they could be."

"But he is not a socialist," Ortega pointed out. "He has as much to lose as we do if the radicals ever succeed."

"Ambitious Hestians are dangerous to our power, it's as simple as that," Cooper noted. She nodded to Antoine. "That's why we've barred Lou from all of his attempts to join the Business Council. That way lies revolution, either socialist or nationalist, and we can allow neither."

The other representatives, recognizing that Huang and Bohlen were in agreement, acquiesced.

"Speaking of socialists." Bohlen nodded to Antoine. "My congratulations to the security forces on the arrest of Tia Nguyen. Our doubts about your new policies have so far proven in error."

"I do not like the rumors I hear of how you achieved this," Huang said disdainfully. "Our people report Allentown Station was threatened with the loss of their dome on the matter."

"I'm quite certain that has been reported, but my operatives are picked for being careful operators," Antoine said. "Whatever is claimed about their methods, they would do nothing to jeopardize our reputation. I am seeing to that personally."

"Allentown's a small fry anyway," Cooper chortled. "And owned by competitors. They wouldn't be missed."

"What would be missed are all of the contracts we stand to lose should we be found liable for an act of mass murder," Huang reminded Cooper pointedly. His eyes narrowed with displeasure at Antoine. "I applaud our young Rigault's tenacity, but his methods I find concerning."

"He has not done us wrong yet," Bohlen asserted. "The elimination of so many of the remaining radical exiles has ended several ongoing embarrassments for the companies of this body. Their nuisance lawsuits and agitations will cease."

"And what of this project you've demonstrated to our subordinates?" asked Jardeau. "I hear disturbing reports of mind control."

"It is nothing of the sort," Antoine declared. "It is a means to physically prevent workers from engaging in strikes or sabotage, nothing more. When the testing is complete and we make implantation mandatory, the last gasp of the revolutionaries will be heard. Our investments and interests on Hestia will be safe. Completely."

"At least you're putting that wretched socialist to good use," Cooper grumbled. "Her ship's role in thwarting the League's plot at Lusitania gave her the potential to be a threat. Now it is gone."

"What more can you tell us of your company's anti-disruption project, Mister Rigault?' Bohlen asked. "I know Rigault's been spending quite a lot of money upon various security projects, and I can easily imagine the vast expense of such an ambitious undertaking."

Antoine returned Bohlen's thin smile. You want more details. I am not fooled, old man. "We have found research personnel of great skill and capability. That is all I am clear to say at this time."

"Good. I hope you haven't compromised our position and neutrality unduly, given your post as our Security Director, Mister Rigault?"

So you think you know something? I will not be trapped, Bohlen. "Never, Chairman Bohlen. I would not jeopardize my family's company so lightly."

There was a certain glint in Bohlen's eye. Antoine knew he wasn't entirely convinced.. Bohlen must know about how far Rigault was stretched financially from Antoine's works. Not that you dare do anything about it.

"I applaud your caution, then," Bohlen said carefully. "With the peace treaty between the Coalition and League signed, we may face a renewal of League involvement in Sagittarius, especially in our space. I would hate to see that undermine your great company, or this Council."

"As would I."

The rest of the Council went silent. All could see that there was more to what was being said, but Antoine had faith in his security measures, and how well he was balancing the books to hide the extent of his expenses from Bohlen. He wasn't about to see Rigault Industries jeopardized by their "allies" on the Council. Not when he had so many plans for the future that required the company's resources.

Bohlen nodded to him one final time and brought up his digital tablet. It was a gesture of momentary surrender, and Antoine returned the nod to accept it. He listened patiently as Bohlen went on to other matters of concern to the Council, beginning with the latest move in the Terran Coalition Assembly to impose sanctions on the Business Council. "The pro-victory parties are, surprisingly, our greatest allies in this matter," Bohlen remarked. "They are undermining the unity of Fuentes' Peace Union by painting the measure as a socialist gesture instead of a human rights matter…"

The meeting went on for another hour before Bohlen dismissed them. Antoine was pleased to be freed of the Council's utterly banal economic discussions. As he joined the others in filing out of the room, he checked his watch and noted that he would be just in time for the resumption of testing.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After a coarse meal and rest period, Tia was dragged back to the labs. This time, she was brought to an examination theater, where she found Antoine Rigault waiting with more guards. Her face paled in sheer rage at him. "It's not enough you exploit us, now you'll rob us of our own bodies?!" she shouted in rage. "You're the embodiment of everything evil about capitalism, you slaving pig! No, I take that back; it's an insult to pigs to be compared to a monster like you!"

Antoine's response was a bemused chuckle. "Call me what you want, Hestian. This is the end for everything you stand for. The control hardware we're perfecting on you will go into every Hestian on this planet. There will be no more strikes, no more sabotage, no more protests. Your people will finally make yourselves useful to the galactic economy."

"If you think we'll surrender, you're wrong!" she insisted. "We'll find ways to beat your tech, just as we beat all of your other methods of controlling us. My people won't let you turn them into puppets!"

The response was laughter, as if she'd just told the galaxy's funniest joke. For several seconds, Antoine guffawed in delight. When he regained control, he managed to speak with a wide grin on his face. "Haven't you paid attention, Hestian? Your people are already half-broken. We crushed your uprising, and they broke under our response. They know the humiliation and lonely death that awaits them if they resist. There is no fight in them now." He drew up to her face. "To that, we'll add starvation. Any Hestian who refuses the implant will be forbidden wages. Their families will be punished if they provide sustenance. Between the chip and food or that… I'm betting they take the food. Those that don't? They'll get the chip anyway once they give us an excuse to imprison them." He chuckled. "This is how it ends for your 'revolution,' Hestian. It dies with a whimper."

"The other worlds will know you for the monsters you are."

"The other worlds won't care. They have their own problems."

Tia never thought she would feel hate again like she felt it now. She wanted to kill Antoine Rigault and wished she'd made sure he was dead the day of the uprising. She felt the hot rage that surged, the desire to sink her teeth into his throat if it was necessary. He was the embodiment of every injustice ever perpetrated against her people, and he reveled in it.

She had no chance to act on her hate. The far door of the examination theater opened. Two people entered. She recognized the first figure, the lab coat-clad doctor who'd implanted this evil device on her.

Tia's eyes widened at the uniformed African woman who entered behind the scientist. "You."

"Ah, you recognize my silent partners in this project?" Antoine moved to stand beside her. "Not by name, I think, so allow me to introduce Commander Yvette Aristide of the League of Sol's External Security Service, and her associate, Dr. Jan Breivik, inventor of the neural control implant."

A scowl crossed Tia's face. "You bastards!" The fury in her voice was unmistakable. "I learned a long time ago you were hypocrites on the liberation of workers, but that you'd go this far? Allying with this capitalist slaver and helping him develop this technology?! You lying pieces of shit! You were never for liberation! You're no better than he is!"

Aristide's expression never changed from the cold, distant disdain it projected toward Tia, as if she were a particularly disgusting thing that Aristide must attend to. "Doctor Breivik, I have little desire to hear this backward individualist spout her anti-Social deviancies. Silence her."

"Yes, Commander." Breivik pulled out the control tablet and tapped twice on its screen. Tia felt her throat tighten. She couldn't make her vocal cords move. "I can progress with the demonstration, if you desire?"

"Please do." Satisfaction glistened in Aristide's eyes as she gave the order. "The full range."

Breivik went to work on his tablet. Tia felt her whole body stiffen. Against her wishes, she began to walk in a robotic shuffle around the room.


The remaining crew on the Shadow Wolf were waiting when Henry returned with the others, including Felix. For a moment, everyone's eyes settled on their former comrade, a man who'd deceived them all in working for his superiors at CDF Intelligence. All were shocked to see him and half were frowning. He returned their attention with a quiet, pained expression.

Henry wondered what his crew would do about Felix's presence. His moment of suspense ended when Samina spoke up. "How have you been, Mister Rothbard?"

"I've been getting along, Samina, thanks for asking," he answered, nodding at her.

Henry felt the tension in the room evaporate. Any inclination to argue or throw recriminations at Felix faded from the crew when Samina broke the ice. "You wanted to talk to us?" Henry asked him. "We've got some time while Ts'shris and his people get everything in order."

"Right." Felix found one of his old seats and drew in a breath. "So, the peace treaty. It's looking to be more and more of a sham."

"No surprise there," Brigitte grumbled. Henry thought she looked a little tender from the stun grenade's effects, but she had the energy to scowl deeply. "I never thought it'd go anywhere."

"Well, it's a shame you couldn't persuade President Fuentes and the Congress of that," Felix answered dourly. "Fact is, the Coalition's trying to honor the deal, but we're finding evidence the League's covertly breaking it. The reason I'm out here is that CDF Intelligence is tracking military-grade material being smuggled through Neutral Space by League External Security. Our old friend from the Lusitanian op is behind it." Felix used his link's holographic display to show them all the image of a dark-skinned woman near some undetailed building.

Henry recognized the image. "The lady in charge of their Q-ship fleet when it fled the system?"

"Commander Yvette Aristide," Felix said, scowling at the picture. "She was initially Internal Security for them. Broke up a bunch of resistance cells and insurgencies on the worlds they occupied in the war. Lusitania was her first setback. The fact that she's still breathing, much less back in active operations, means she must've successfully passed the buck on to someone else."

"So how does that explain why you're here on Trinidad Station?" asked Piper. "After Lusitania, the League's influence around Trifid Nebula became nil. The Trifid Neutrality Commission is barely neutral these days. Why would the League be doing anything here?"

"They're not," Felix said. "I'm here because of this picture. It was taken by a CDF asset on Hestia."

"She's on Hestia. Aristide." Henry frowned as he started to see where Felix was going with this. "You think she's involved in whatever reason the megacorps have to go after Tia and Linh?"

"It's looking like it."

Miri shook her head. "But it doesn't make sense. Kepper's got a KC order on his head. He'd never be a part of such an operation."

"He may not be involved in the League part. There's another player." Felix turned off the image and put the link away. "We've been trying to find signs of where the League's been sending that material. As it happens, our assets on Hestia are tracking repeated shipments of materials into Thyssenbourg Spaceport, materials with similar tonnage and volume to the League stuff we've found out about. All of it's being done under Rigault Heavy Industries. We're talking premium alloys used in ship construction, which doesn't match any of the actual Rigault economic activities on Hestia."

"It doesn't," Henry agreed. "Rigault exports minerals and ores to their factories elsewhere; they don't do any on-site manufacturing or mineral refining on Hestia."

"Yeah, I remember Tia laying out how the megacorps worked too, and I shared it with my superiors. General Ostrovsky agrees with me that the League's working with Rigault on projects of some kind."

"What does this have t' do with Tia's kidnappin'?" Cera asked. "Or th' attempt on Linh?"

"We're not sure yet, but we'd like to find out," Felix answered.

Something in the way Felix said those words made Henry sigh. He recognized just what Felix was looking to do now. "So let me guess. Ostrovsky sent you to find us to help insert you onto Hestia." He shook his head. "It won't work, not now. The Hestians have to know who we are. They'll watch us like hawks, assuming they let us land at all."

"I can get why you're thinking that way, but it's not at all what I'm here for," Felix answered, grinning. "I'm not here to see if you'll give me and my team a ride. I'm here to offer you a ride."

The surprise of the others clearly matched Henry's own. "What are you getting at?" he asked his old friend.

"We're already heading to Hestia," Felix explained. "I'm bringing the Majha, a big hauler commanded by a CDF Intelligence agent. The Wolf will fit in one of her cargo pods and can launch to extract us after we rescue Tia."

Henry blinked. "Us? You're talking about taking a CDF Intelligence team to rescue Tia?"

"Intelligence suggests some of Rigault's shipments are winding up at the security center in the capital where they're keeping her," Felix said. "I figure we can go for her while my team secures access to their computers and downloads whatever intel they can get on the League's activities."

"From the use of 'we,' it sounds like you're more interested in rescuing Tia than doing your job," Pieter said, his chuckling almost a snort of amusement. "That's surprising, given how often you two drove each other up a wall over economics and politics."

"Heh, we did," Felix agreed, chuckling himself. "But I consider her like I do every one of you: comrades, friends, and I wouldn't leave any of you to hang out to dry. Whatever your politics." He glanced at Henry again. "I sold this to Ostrovsky already. Pointed out a rescue op can easily draw attention from the intel-gathering op. He greenlit taking the team in for both."

"That's taking quite a risk," Miri said softly. "Given the political situation with Fuentes' reliance on Rhodes and her wing of the Peace Union, I'd say it's impossible for this op to have Presidential authority behind it. Ostrovsky's doing this on his own initiative, isn't he?"

After several moments of silence, Felix nodded uncomfortably. "I'd appreciate it if you don't speak about this."

"Speak about what?" Piper inquired with a grin.

"I think you can trust us on that," Henry said. He watched Felix wince at the word "trust" and felt a small pang of remorse at his word choice. He clamped down on the thoughts he felt about before. Tia comes before my anger. "We can discuss this planned operation of yours later. Station Security should be starting the interrogations now."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

One of Mavik's subordinates escorted Henry and Felix into the interrogation observation room. Henry was so used to dealing with Yanik that it threw him off to see a tailless Saurian like Mavik. Like the majority of his co-religionists, Mavik's tail—vestigial for Saurians—was severed in a religious ritual when he entered adulthood. It gave him a human-like silhouette, albeit with some clear differences.

Inside the room, a couple of Mavik's subordinates were interrogating Saxon. Henry felt a twinge of discomfort at seeing one of them wail on him with a series of blows. It was a reminder that Trinidad Station's adherence to law and principles was still a little shaky. "How is it going, Chief?" he asked.

"The responsible guilds have completed repairs on our systems," Mavik answered. "As for the prisoners, they will not cooperate."

"He's trained to resist this kind of treatment," Felix observed. When that drew Henry and Mavik's attention, Felix nodded toward the window. "I've read his dossier. Trapper Saxon, formerly Sergeant Trapper Saxon of the TCMC."

"He was a Coalition Marine?" Henry asked.

Felix nodded and frowned. "One of the bad ones, unfortunately. Nobody recognized it when he went into special forces, but it came out once he got seconded to CDF Intel for black ops in Neutral Space, right about '49. Once he realized how much money there was to be made as an experienced wetwork operator-for-hire, he deserted. Nearly killed his CO on the way out, causing two fatalities on his team."

"Why'd he get recruited if he was a psych case?" Henry asked.

"Intel tries to screen for it, but some of these guys are good at hiding it, and the need for personnel can make the screening people a little myopic," Felix answered. He turned to Mavik. "If you give me a few minutes with him, I bet I could get him to cooperate."

"My people have failed so far, so you may try," Mavik said. "Do not kill him."

"You don't need to worry about that," Felix said. He went for the observation room door.

Henry watched him leave before asking, "How's Chief Khánh?"

"Dr. Toussiant has personally taken charge of her treatment," Mavik answered. "I am told she is being kept under medical observation, but no further measures were needed." His ruby red eyes locked on to Henry. "I am aware of her plans to accompany you to Hestia to rescue her old friend. I counseled her against it, but she insists. It will be up to you to keep her safe."

"I'll do my best." For Tia's sake as much as Linh's.

Their attention returned to the interrogation room, where Saxon was screaming for help. They watched Felix press an auto-syringe to Saxon's throat and step back. The prisoner's body stiffened. Felix leaned in, placing his lips a few centimeters from Saxon's ear, and started whispering something the speakers couldn't make out.

Felix, what the hell are you doing?! Henry wondered. He turned in time to see Mavik dash for the door. He followed. They turned the corner and barged through the main door into the interrogation room.

They entered to the sound of Saxon speaking in shouts. "It was Antoine Rigault, okay?! He hired me to snatch the Hestian or kill her if we couldn't get her away! He provided us the back doors into the systems here!" His eyes locked on Henry. "For the love of God, help me! I don't know anything else! Nothing! Make him cure me!"

"What did you do to him?" Mavik demanded. "What did you give him?"

"Something special," Felix said. "And now the other part." He pressed a second auto-syringe to Saxon's throat before they could do anything.

At first, the merc didn't react, but within seconds, his hands started flexing, as if he was just regaining his use of them. "I don't know anything else," he insisted. "I swear! I swear!"

Mavik opened the door and summoned guards. They came and assumed control of the frantic man. They cuffed his wrists and carried him off.

Once he was gone, Mavik turned on Felix, his red eyes seeming to burn like coals. "What did you do to him?" Mavik demanded. "Poison him?"

Felix shook his head. He held up the second syringe and opened the end of it, allowing Mavik to take a whiff of it. "Sugar," the Saurian said. "Glucose solution."

"It's a placebo," Felix said. "The first agent's a temporary paralysis agent we use for snatch jobs and quick takedowns. Only deadens the CNS for a few minutes, depending on the dose. The compound's new, so I figured Trapper wouldn't know about it, and the dose was light enough it wouldn't keep him from speaking." Felix allowed himself a small smirk. "I figured someone like Trapper would see me in the same light he sees everything else. He'd assume it was a compound meant to melt his innards and be frantic for a cure."

"Well, your guess paid off," Henry noted. "So, Antoine Rigault?"

"Yeah. Rigault's a family business, founded out of New Gabon. Former African Union colony, turned down Coalition membership over a century ago when the Union joined up." Felix sighed. "He's a big player too. His grandfather was the family patriarch. His father was the oldest of that generation, but the tradition is for the leadership to go to whoever impresses shareholders across the family the best. Antoine's father didn't impress, so he's determined to get in line. League must be offering him something big."

"And whatever it is, he decided to snatch Tia."

Felix nodded. "Could be personal. Back in the uprising in '47, Antoine was in the field as a corporate security officer. He got shot in the head, lost an eye, and barely survived. So he bears a big grudge. Now he's Director of Security for the Hestian Business Council on top of being Rigault Industries' representative on the HBC."

"If he wields anything like my authority, he is very dangerous," Mavik noted.

"Yeah, I'd say so," Felix remarked. "I apologize if I pushed things further than you liked, Chief, but guys like Saxon aren't going to talk from a beating. You've got to put the fear of God into them. The fear of meeting Him anyway."

"You got results. I will overlook the means, provided you don't repeat them."

With that blessing, Henry and Felix departed. As they walked down the corridor, mindful of being alone, Felix continued. "Rigault's got some heavy backing, Jim. This is going to be a real black op. He'll make trouble if we leave the slightest Coalition link. Fuentes is bending over backward to prevent any appearance of the Coalition not following the treaty. It's the only way to keep Rhodes from breaking the Peace Union and destroying his administration."

"Yeah. So we'll be careful. But we've still got to do this." Henry's expression hardened. "It's Tia's only hope."


The day's testing ended, and Tia was returned to her cell. A sparse dinner meal of hard cornbread, a grayish wheat gruel, and a flask of water was left for her, and as a final test of the device, Tia was compelled to eat the meal.

Once Breivik and the others were gone, Tia curled up on her prison cot and shuddered. Even now, she could feel the sensation returning again. The loss of control. Her body acting without her input: walking, lifting, carrying, running. Her mind rendered down to little more than a powerless passenger of her own body.

She felt tears form in her eyes and couldn't stop them from flowing. Terror for the future drove them. A future that looked more and more like she and all of Hestia would be turned into living drones for the megacorps, enslaved forever with the chips planted onto their spines. Their only existence would be labor for their oppressors with no hope of something better.

The League's involvement made the future seem even bleaker. Their entire system was oppressive control, and the neural device on her spine was the ultimate expression of that goal. Breivik's words made that clear, and that even he expected to be implanted made him seem all the more mad in her eyes.

I need to warn people, came the thought. I need to warn the galaxy about these things. Give people a chance to fight back!

The question was how. With this thing in her neck, all they had to do was get to their remote control and she was helpless. They'd march her right back.

The despair came back. She fought against it. No. If I give in, it's over. I have to hold out. Someone will come for me.

She was so absorbed in her thoughts, she almost missed the shadow that settled over her cell's iron bars. She turned on her bed and faced the source of it. The man was formally dressed, indicating he was a government functionary of some sort, and had a bronze complexion with hints of East Asian ancestry. Her eyes settled on his face and anger built in her heart. "Felipe."

Felipe Xiu nodded. A fellow Hestian, descended from Cebuano settler families to Sagittarius, he looked just as healthy as he had the last time they saw each other, at Hotel Ribiera in Lusitania's Acevedo Islands.

Her mind flashed back to that day, when Felipe made clear his allegiance to the League, regardless of their callous betrayal of the Hestian revolutionary movement. "What are you doing here? Did you know about this?" she asked with a frown, pointing to her neck.

"Quite the greeting for an old comrade, Tia," he said softly. The softness was deceptive, as there was a certain bite to his tone, an arrogance she could make out.

"You stopped being my comrade when you embraced those who betrayed us to our oppressors," Tia hissed. "Although I see you've prospered in your treachery. Your League masters have been good to you, haven't they?"

"The Hestian Social Solidarity Party saw fit to put me forth as a candidate for Talisay's seat in the National Assembly," Felipe answered. "I've been honored with the position of party whip, among other positions."

"Does that include being involved with this?!" She turned enough to show the back of her neck. Given what she'd seen of the other test subjects, she knew there would be scarring on her skin from the surgery.

Felipe grinned and nodded. "I have the honor of helping to provide funding for Dr. Breivik's work, yes. It warms my heart that you won't be the first capitalist to be punished in this way for exploiting the working class."

"You bastard," Tia called out. "I'm a worker. I've always been one."

"You're James Henry's assistant manager, helping him to earn profit on the backs of the actual workers on his ship," Felipe retorted. He shook his head. "Just like Linh exploits the dockworkers on Trinidad Station."

"Bullshit!" Tia raged. Her fear for the future was lost in the moment to her anger at Felipe's insults. Her voice seemed to vibrate through the cell. "I'm paid spacer's scale as laid out by the ISU, the same as the rest of our crew, even Henry himself! He's a worker and wouldn't do less! He's even given up personal profit to make sure his crew's paid! And Linh and her people work for the Dockworker's Guild of Trinidad Station, a proper trade union run and operated by workers!"

"Yet here you are, defending capitalists just because they're not openly businesses." Felipe shook his head. "If only the Tia Nguyen who I fought beside could see you now. Or maybe you were always a capitalist at heart?"

"Speak for yourself, traitor," Tia hissed. "You're the one who's become a corporate puppet, dressed up like a company man! All for your League masters!"

"This is a strategic requirement, nothing more," he answered, his nostrils flaring. Her barb had hit home to some degree. "I'm working toward the true liberation of the working class on Hestia and across the galaxy. Once our worlds are brought under the Society, the exploitation of workers will cease. We'll be free."

"We'll all have chips in our necks to make us drones!" Tia protested. "That's the end game of your precious League! Turning workers into slaves!"

"The chips are for the anti-Social only," Felipe retorted. "Capitalists, kulaks, saboteurs. People like you. In time, they'll be unnecessary, once they've been suppressed by the victory of the Revolution."

"How can you be so blind?!" Tia shouted. "The League are the greatest oppressors of workers in the galaxy! I've seen it!"

"They're the only hope to overthrow capitalism we have left! Without the League, the capitalists and theocrats of the Terran Coalition will control our destinies and set back the Revolution for generations to come!" Felipe smacked his hand against the bar. "The only reason you won't accept that is because you've become one of them!"

Tia almost continued the argument, but she stopped herself as her mouth opened. She could see the certainty blazing in his eyes. He was utterly convinced, and nothing would break his belief in the League. Nothing. The only thing she could do was turn her back to him and stop talking.

"It is the only way," he insisted. "The only way. When you finally realize that, maybe I can talk them into removing the chip." After those words, she heard his footfalls on the floor, indicating his departure. She curled back up on her cot, still smoldering at his stubborn defense of the people who betrayed their revolution.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia was not the only person smoldering in Thyssenbourg that night. A short distance away, Antoine Rigault turned off his link and glared at the far window showing the night skyline of the Hestian capital. In his mind, the message from one of his sources on Trinidad Station still echoed.

The team failed. Trapper Saxon is in custody and Linh Khánh is alive.

After all of the success he was enjoying, failure tasted particularly bitter. More so, he wanted Khánh, both as leverage to deal with Nguyen and as an extra test subject.

Do I give this up? There was an appeal there, to just write it off and get back to business. He had Tia Nguyen, and the projects were proceeding well; why rock the boat further with more possible failures?

But he couldn't. His mind kept flashing back to that broken shell of a department store and how close he came to death. All thanks to those women. He wanted his due justice for their attacks once and for all.

His fingers tapped away at his personal computer controls. After several moments, the image of Allan Kepper appeared. The bounty hunter and assassin got straight to the point. "Got that new job?"

"Yes. Head to Trinidad Station, and bring me Linh Khánh."

"Will do." Like that, the assassin cut the call.

Antoine sat back in his chair and considered what he was going to do with Kepper. He'd carefully kept Kepper's presence secret from Aristide and Breivik, given his history with the League, but in time, he had to decide whether to keep him around. It endangered that critical alliance, but on the other hand, he had uses for Kepper that he couldn't use the League for. Uses vital to his future ambitions.

I knew this was a dangerous game when I began it, he reminded himself. But there's few things more dangerous than the steps needed to found an empire...


Henry arrived at the meeting place on Trinidad Station, one of the eateries in the Receiving District that marketed itself as providing Khalistani food. He found Felix meeting with a woman in a spacer's jacket of dark green over a plain vest and blouse with trousers. On her belt was a curved dagger in a hilt that he recognized as a kirpan, the ceremonial dagger worn by committed Sikhs.

"Jim." Felix gestured to a third chair for him while the woman looked him over. "This is Kaiya Kaur Chagger of the Majha. She's one of ours."

Meaning she's CDF Intelligence. Henry nodded to her and fought to keep any trace of bitterness from his expression. "Captain Chagger."

"Captain Henry. An honor to meet you." Her English was spoken well, although with a Khalistani accent. "You made skilled use of some missiles I delivered here a few years ago."

Henry knew immediately what she meant. "So you were the source of those Hunters al-Lahim provided us for the attack on Pluto Base."


Henry glanced toward Felix. "You knew?"

"I suspected. We've got a few people running in Neutral Space, but the Majha's the best candidate for such a run." Felix nodded to Kaiya. "Which is why I called her here. I've already laid out the plan."

"It will work, but I'm not confident it will go smoothly," she said. "And it will burn our ship for certain. At a minimum, we won't be able to take the Majha back to Hestia for other ops. And we may be identified and barred from other ports where the Hestian Business Council's members hold sway. It would negatively impact operations."

"So is that a 'no'?" Henry asked.

She shook her head. "No, simply a point on how much is being sacrificed for this mission. Colonel Rothbard's made it clear how important it is to accomplish anyway. We will do what we can to aid it."

"We start by getting a cargo we know they'd buy on Hestia," Felix said. "It needs to be one to give an excuse to get us planetside, then we find transportation to the security center."

"Food supplies," Henry said. "The HBC keeps Hestia's food supplies balanced on a razor's edge. It maximizes their control over the native populace. And if it's something with a time limit on it, landing it directly will make sense."

"I can arrange for an associated captain to deliver us such a cargo on the way," said Kaiya. "And your ship will be easily hidden in one of our full-sized pods."

"Then that's everything we need for now," Felix said. "Let us know about that food cargo and we'll get prepped for departure here. I'll see to my team. We'll let you know when it's time."

She nodded and walked away.

There was silence between the two men. Henry couldn't look at Felix without the bitter feeling of betrayal coming up within him, knowing he'd had him aboard for nearly four years not as a friend, but a CDF Intel officer on a deep cover operation. "How're things back on Canaan?" he asked.

He noted Felix glanced his way before lowering his eyes. "Lousy. The Peace Union only passes legislation with raw numbers in the Assembly. Then they wheel and deal in the Senate, sometimes successfully if it has enough popular support. Everyone else votes against whatever Fuentes wants, even if it makes sense, although a lot of it I don't like." Felix muttered the last. "There's some scuttlebutt that Fuentes and Rhodes aren't getting along, but he's stuck with her. If she breaks the Peace Union up, he loses his majority in Congress and the anti-peace treaty parties will block everything."

Henry shook his head. "How the hell did it get so bad?"

"People are upset about the treaty, or how it's been reacted to. Defeatists, war-mongers, everyone calls people everything these days. There's no unity, not like we knew." Felix shook his head. "I hear rumors. Some people think there's been psych warfare ops going on, but the proof's not strong."

"I thought I saw some signs of League propaganda in those shipyard attack broadcasts."

Felix grimaced. "Spencer tried to turn Erhart's bad idea into a good one. Instead of a death ride through the League's core systems, we hit their yards and kept them from rebuilding the fleets we've demolished. But the League's been convincing everyone our ships hit civilian shipyards and inflicted mass casualties." Felix shook his head. "Barton's back in CDF Command and they've kicked a lot of people out for being 'anti-peace.' General Ostrovsky's one of the last left, and that's our only good news. Fuentes slashed our budget even more than the fleet. This op? We're making it work on stockpiled resources, not new procurement."

Henry nodded stiffly. "Erhart made things worse, but the war was always going to cause division at some point. The question of keeping the fight up straight to Earth, I mean."

"Erhart was and is a bastard, but he was right about where this is leading us," Felix complained. "The League's taking advantage of this."

"Yeah, they are. Just a question of when and how."

An uneasy silence followed. Neither man seemed to know how to break it. Felix made the attempt eventually, asking, "What happened to Yanik? I could see he's favoring his right arm."

"Kepper got him in the shoulder with an explosive round of some kind," Henry replied. "Oskar figures it'll take a lot of time and surgery to reconstruct the joint. Until then, his right arm's nearly useless."

"Christ," Felix muttered. "We should've hunted the bastard down after Lusitania."

"We were a little busy. Or do you mean your side?"

Felix winced at the heat in Henry's voice. Henry regretted it, but thinking about Felix's true allegiances still hurt tremendously. "Both," Felix answered him.

"We'll get him this time. Rigault's probably going to send him after Linh."

"Will Mavik's people be ready for someone like him?"

"If we leave early enough, it won't matter," answered Henry.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Samina met Linh just inside the starboard side airlock. A duffel bag was over Linh's right shoulder while her left hand gripped a second, smaller bag. "Hey, Chief," she said brightly, trying to project the good mood she felt despite the circumstances. "Want me to help?"

Linh smiled at her. It was at least genuine, though worry still showed on her face. "It's not your place to carry things for me anymore, Samina. You're an Engineer's Mate now, not a fetch tech."

Samina couldn't help but beam at her words, given they were a reminder of how far she'd come these past few years. "I know, but I didn't know how well you'd recovered from the attack. No harm in helping a shipmate, I mean."

"They hurt my pride more than anything. I told myself I was ready for an attack, but they got me before I could react." Given her familiarity with the Shadow Wolf's internal design, Linh knew where the quarters were and entered the upper deck hall leading to them. "You've got room, right?"


"Good. I'll get my things set up and get to work on the inertial compensators."

Samina continued following. With the tone of her voice, it wasn't hard to see Linh's distraction. "We'll get her back," she said. "We'll save Tia. I'm sure of it."

"I'm sure we will." Despite her wording, the worry in Linh's voice was still there. It seemed to be consuming all of her attention.

Samina thought of how she might alleviate it, but quickly realized nothing would. Nothing, in fact, could. Linh knew her friend was suffering and that their rescue plans were still something of a long shot.

Nothing Samina said could change that.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Henry found Miri in the rec room, reading quietly from a digital tablet. He took a seat across from her, getting her attention. "Everything ready?"

"We've got fresh stores and all of our fuel tanks are refilled." Miri set the tablet down. "Whatever happens, we've got the supplies to be in space for a month, at least."

"Good. Also, I thought I'd make it official," he said. "For the time being, I'd like you to be the acting First Mate. Until we get Tia back."

There was no immediate reaction. She seemed to consider what he was saying carefully. "I'm honored," she finally said. "But what about Yanik? He's Second Mate; he should come first."

"I know, and I already brought it up with him. Before we even reached Trinidad." Henry shook his head. "He refused. At this rate, I'm worried about him, but I need to fill the vacancy in our command chain, so I'm coming to you."

"I understand, and I accept," she answered. "We'll just have to be patient with Yanik."

"His injuries over the last year caught up with him even before Kepper nearly blew his arm off at the shoulder. Now he acts like he's a useless cripple. For a Krasshash, fulfilling duties and obligations is everything."

"Vidia might be able to help him," Miri suggested. "But we have to face the fact that his religious beliefs make his condition and the prospect of losing his ability to serve and fight a terrifying thing to consider."

"I know. But I want to make it clear to him that he's still a valued member of this crew."

"I'll do my best to impart that feeling."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

There was quiet in the Shadow Wolf infirmary while Oskar checked over Yanik's wounded shoulder. His scans showed all of the damaged and affected tissues and the slow, very slow, recovery of some of them.

Seeing the distant look in the Saurian's yellow eyes, Oskar decided to speak on the past. "We've had quite a time these past few years since you found Brigitte and I stowed away," he said. "You were quite intimidating when you opened that crate."

"I could smell you," he said. "It was obvious you were seeking to flee the League. My concern was not your decision to stow away so much as it was the possibility of the League attacking our ship to retrieve you."

Oskar nodded quietly. "I can see that concern. You were quite gentle with us, all things considered."

"You sought to get away from the cruel madness of the League. That was cause enough to be kind, as I saw it." His yellow eyes gazed intently at Oskar. "I recall my impressions of that day vividly. Brigitte was defiant and proud of it. You were different."


"I smelled the anger on you," he said. "You left the League for personal reasons, but betrayal was one of them."

Oskar's jaw tightened. "Yes," he admitted. "It was. My trust was betrayed by someone I trusted." The old resentment came back to him easily, as if the wound was fresh. "Someone I considered a close colleague and friend."

"Such a betrayal is despised by the Divine, for it damages the soul of the betrayed. It denies them the means to trust others." Yanik nodded to him. "I am honored to have played a role in preventing such damage from harming you, Doctor."

Yanik's words brought Oskar out of his thoughts on the matter. "Thank you, my friend," he said. "Right now, I should be focusing on your shoulder anyway. Reconstructing it will take time and effort, and I still can't promise you'll regain full use."

"I understand," said Yanik. Oskar could hear the uncertainty in Yanik's voice, such an unusual tone to hear in him. "If need be, I will depart the Shadow Wolf to avoid being a burden."

"Don't be hasty, friend," Oskar admonished. "We are here for you as much as you have been here for us."

"I understand that, but it would be a betrayal of my own faith to accept obligations I cannot fulfill," Yanik answered. "My departure may be necessary, for all of our sakes."

Oskar opened his mouth to protest the idea again, but this time, he stopped himself. To continue would only make Yanik feel worse, and as a doctor, he had an obligation to minimize his patient's suffering, not prod an emotional sore spot. "Then I shall endeavor to ensure you are returned to fitness," he said. "For all of our sakes."

He was gratified by the understanding he saw in those alien yellow eyes, joined by gratitude. Now I must follow through, he told himself.


Antoine barely had time to get his morning routine going when he received an incoming call from Corporate HQ. He stepped out of his shower and donned a bathrobe before seeing to the call. His cousin's face appeared on the holo-projector along the far wall. "Antoine." He sounded urgent and a little agitated. "It's not like you to keep me waiting."

"And it's not like you, cousin, to forget the time difference between Thyssenbourg and Bekeleville." Antoine tried to keep the irritation from his voice while giving the reminder. "You caught me in the shower."

"I see. I mistimed my call, then. My apologies." Both men knew he wasn't sorry in the slightest, but decorum, professional and family, had to be upheld. "I wanted to speak to you about the exiles' situation."

"What, in particular, concerns you?"

"This incident on Trinidad Station has gained public attention," Rene said. "The mercenaries you hired confessed our involvement. I'm told you were personally named. Station authorities have already issued statements protesting the attempted abduction of an officer of the station's government."

Antoine rolled his eyes. As much as Saxon's cowardice infuriated him, he couldn't lose control in front of his cousin. "Jumped up pirates, that's all they are, and all she is."

"Maybe so, cousin, but the affair at Lusitania means that a number of the Trifid Region worlds have acknowledged Trinidad Station as a legitimate port of call and sovereign government. The Lusitanian government has already made indications they will back any claims made by Trinidad against Rigault. We have trillions of credits in business interests in that region, Antoine, that this failure places in jeopardy." Rene's voice grew heated as he brought up the money. "Given the company's financial state, we can't afford such a loss. If they push on this matter, we'll have to concede."

"So see that they don't, Rene. Rally the other companies. Convince the Galters that this is an attempted state intervention in our economic affairs."

"Prime Minister Ascaro will not be so easily diverted, cousin. I'm sorry, but I'm going to insist you call off the campaign against the exiles. At the very least, make no further attacks on Linh Khánh or any other exiles in the Trifid Region."

Antoine walked over to his pantry. From the refrigerator, he recovered an orange. As he looked it over, he thought of Kepper, already jumping his way to the station. He could recall him, of course.

But the memory wouldn't let him. Linh Khánh had almost as much to do with his maiming that day as Tia Nguyen did. He wasn't going to just let her go. He deserved retribution on the Hestians who took his eye and nearly killed him. Damn the Lusitanians, damn Trinidad, damn them all. I'll deal with them in due time!

"Don't worry about Khánh any longer, cousin," he said. "I will make sure there are no further troubles."

"I took law, cousin. Don't try to talk semantically on this." Rene frowned. "You already sent another agent to pick up Khánh."

"I sent my best," Antoine said. "So don't worry. He'll find a subtle way to deal with this."

"If it's the same one who took Nguyen, I'll remind you an atomic device attached to an atmospheric dome is not subtle!" Rene's voice grew heated. "Dammit, cousin, this is our company legacy you're risking. I've been supportive, but I can't just let you do as you please indefinitely! As it is, the projects we've funded have left our company financially overextended. Nadine and I have managed to keep the extent hidden from the shareholders and the markets, but if there's a major shock to our share price and selling begins, we won't be able to hide it. We could face a hostile takeover."

"We're an interstellar conglomerate, one of the largest in Sagittarius." Antoine's skepticism toward such a threat filled his voice. "We can't be taken over like some small-time, one-market company."

"We can by the likes of Frank Lou."

The name made Antoine scowl. "The Council would never let him. They'd buy us out first," he insisted. "Stop worrying, cousin. Everything will go as planned."

"I'll believe that when we have Tia Nguyen's name on the amnesty and eliminate any potential leadership against your new measures," Rene said. "That's what we need, all we need."

"I'm seeing to it," Antoine remarked coldly. "In the meantime, keep calm and give no indications we have issues. We've come too far to stop, cousin. All we can do is see this through to the end." No more games, he thought to himself. No more tests. Time to see how far we can push Breivik's device.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

As much as Rene's urgency was clear, Antoine wouldn't let his daily schedule be rushed. The last thing he wanted was to give his silent partners the feeling he was losing control of the situation on his end. He went about his day as usual, surveying reports of security activities across the planet while meeting with various subordinates and political figures.

Only when his usual work day was done did Antoine head to the security center. He made his way to the new labs section and found Breivik in his office examining notes. "What is our progress?"

"The motor control still works as intended," he answered.

"We need more." Antoine sat in front of Breivik's desk. It was as spartan as always, befitting the League mentality as Antoine understood it. "She must be made to sign the amnesty."

"I'm not sure the motor control can be fine enough to replicate a hand-written signature," Breivik said. "And while thought interaction is the next phase in the research, I can't promise any immediate results. Especially if I'm forced to rush."

The door to the office slid open. Commander Aristide entered, her steel gaze as cold as usual. While Antoine would always be cautious with her, he did appreciate her competence. "Director Rigault," she said to him, her tone formal. "Have you acquired the test subjects you proposed?"

"You will have as many as you need," he promised. "I have more than enough Hestians in the jails on industrial sedition charges."

"So you do." She turned her attention to Breivik. "Doctor, your progress has been acceptable, but the time is approaching for the next phase. The report from Earth is that events are proceeding on scheduled lines, and the neural control device will need to be ready for mass production soon if it is to be employed as planned."

"As I was explaining to Director Rigault, we are still examining the motor control functions," Breivik answered, this time more timidly. "Forcing the project ahead to thought interaction could undermine the entire project. The more we explore the mechanisms of motor control, the greater our understanding of the interplay…"

"Doctor, perhaps you did not understand me." Aristide's voice could have fogged a glass of warm milk. "We are not talking about a minor matter of scientific curiosity, but a project of import to the Committee of Public and Social Safety. It is critical to Society that progress be made, and be made soon. Am I clear?"

Antoine noticed the way Breivik's face paled. "Yes, Commander, you are. My apologies for failing to understand the needs of Society."

There was no verbal reply from Aristide. Antoine saw his opportunity and spoke up. "If you wish to further test the device's limits, I have a proposal."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia thought her suffering was done for the day, so she was unprepared when the guards came and brought her back to the lab section of the compound. The emotions of fear and frustration and horror were all too familiar to her, yet they came anyway with her removal from her cell.

The men brought her to a room with a single table and several plastic chairs. Aristide was standing in the corner and Breivik was with Antoine Rigault at the table. A stack of papers was in the middle of the table beside a pen. It wasn't hard to guess what it was for.

Tia said nothing as the guards put her in the seat opposite from them. Antoine pulled a piece of paper from the stack and set it and the pen in front of her. "Read it and sign it."

"I already know what it is," Tia said. "No."

"We can make you sign it, Hestian," he reminded her. "And we'll still hold you to it."

"Then do it. Make me." Tia leaned forward. "I'm not going to spit on the memories of my fallen comrades by signing away my loyalty to our principles."

"Very well." Antoine nodded to Breivik. "Doctor, do it."

Breivik pulled the tablet from his lab coat and tapped his fingers on it. Tia felt her arm and hand jerk involuntarily. She fought as hard as she could, but there was no stopping her hand from grasping the pen. It brought the pen over to the paper and started writing along the bottom.

She grimaced and struggled to stop her hand from moving. After several seconds, however, she started chuckling. Her hand stopped.

Aristide's expression slightly shifted, while Antoine was clearly flustered by her sudden laughter. He looked down at the paper to see what was so funny.

Breivik pulled his finger back from the tablet. "I'm sorry, sir, but that is the best we can do."

The result of his penmanship-by-proxy was something approximating a signature, but it was still more squiggles and lines than coherent written letters.

Tia's chuckling led off into tittering. "Well, I don't think that's going to fool anyone."

"Make her do it," Antoine ordered. "Give her an order to sign it herself."

The surgeon was already nodding. "I can try, but this is why we need further testing. The thought interaction and editing capability is still more theory than fact."

"Do it," Antoine insisted.

Breivik sighed and went to work. Tia readied herself as much as she could, not knowing what this would feel like. Could this technology actually go that far? It was bad enough it turned her into a meat puppet.

A twitch filled her body gradually until it became noticeable to the others. Breivik shook his head before they could ask. "The interface hasn't been configured for this kind of control," he insisted. "I can order her motor functions easily enough, but you're asking me to compel her to a decision."

Aristide's tone was unforgiving. "Doctor, you told me you were making progress."

"I am," he insisted. "Every day we improve the motor control interface, every day! But this, this will require more testing. It's not a matter of effort, Commander; it's sheer practicality. The human brain is a complex organ and it will take time to learn more about controlling it through the interface device."

"If you can't compel her directly, there are other methods," Aristide pointed out. "Can the device interact with any of the non-motor functions? The brain's pain centers, for instance."

Tia paled and swallowed.

Breivik bit into his lip. "I… I've not considered such a thing. The entire point of the technology is—"

"—the point of the technology, of any technology, is to serve the needs of Society," Aristide said. "Right now, our needs include supporting our friend here." She nodded to Antoine. "In any way necessary."

The grin that crossed Antoine's face was diabolic in its intensity.

Breivik sighed and started tapping at the controls. Tia drew in a breath in anticipation.

Nothing came.

As the seconds stretched on, she forced herself to breathe. A treacherous hope came to her. Maybe the device couldn't work that way, no matter what her captors wanted?

"Sign the amnesty," Antoine ordered, pushing another sheet toward her.


"Doctor Breivik?"

"One moment… there." The look in his eyes was almost apologetic. "Trying it now."

Tia again drew in her breath, readying herself for whatever was to come.

It wasn't enough.

The pain was everywhere, as if every bit of her body was immersed in flames. She let out a raw scream and thrashed in the chair.

There was no counting the seconds, any unit of time, while in the grip of this level of pain. Time was meaningless. There was only suffering.

It ended abruptly, leaving Tia to take in a breath while Breivik went over his tablet. "I need to re-calibrate the machine," he told the others. "The power output was too much. The device may burn out."

As he resumed his work, Tia noted Antoine's attention. "Sign," he said. "Or this will continue."

A part of Tia wanted to sign to avoid feeling that amount of pain again. Her eyes settled on the piece of paper. If I sign, that doesn't happen again.

If you sign, you betray all of your comrades. Ngoc, Mathilde, Kanda, Nhung, all of those who died for a free Hestia. You become precisely what Felipe called you.

She made no further move toward the paper. After half a minute, Breivik nodded to the others. "Recommencing test," he said, clinging to his words as if they were a moral shield.

The pain returned.


The Majha and Shadow Wolf departed Trinidad Station within an hour of one another. The two ships burned out to the jump limit alone and made their jump to the same system, an empty system on one of the jump routes toward Hestia.

Once they were alone, the Majha opened one of her empty cargo pods and Cera guided the Shadow Wolf in, bringing her to a landing in the snug fit of the cargo pod. The crew departed their ship for the Majha to preserve the fuel and air aboard the smaller Shadow Wolf.

By invitation, Henry arrived on the bridge of the Majha. Kaiya and Felix were present, as were Kaiya's best officers. Every man wore a turban and everyone, male and female, had a kirpan on their belt. Henry noticed that most of the crew below decks were the same: Sikhs from Khalistan, with a few assorted crew from other worlds and backgrounds.

The bridge was three times the size of the Shadow Wolf's, more akin to the size of a CDF destroyer. Helm and astrogation were toward the front. A sensor station was off to the side, a weapons station on the other, a specialized comm station and systems control/engineering off to the rear with auxiliary stations. To the side of the bridge was a plotting holo-table to allow for greater analysis of nearby stars and possible jump routes as well as in-system flight paths. For the moment, Kaiya was at this table, observing the Majha's quiet burn through the empty system. Technically speaking, they didn't need to engage the engines at all, but most Neutral Space captains burned at least a bit between jumps to avoid making themselves sitting ducks to pirate attacks.

Felix stepped up to him. When he started speaking, it was in a low tone as if to not disturb the bridge crew. "Samina's told me about the Wolf."

"What about her?"

"That the fusion drive's overstrained her structurally. She's only got a few years of life left in her frame, and there's no fixing that." Felix's voice betrayed his clear regret at that fact. "I guess we always knew the fusion drive would be too much for the old girl one day."


"Still got us out of plenty of scrapes."

"It did." Henry nodded, hoping Felix would move on from the subject. The conflict within him, that happiness of seeing Felix again clashing with the lingering feel of betrayal, was one he didn't have the emotional energy to deal with right now.

"You've at least earned enough to replace her when the time comes, right?" Felix asked. "I mean, whatever else one can say about the peace, it's been good for the economy."

"It has, and we've made a lot these last several months," Henry said. "And I could probably manage a secondhand ship."

There was no denying the halting way he said those words. Felix noted it with a careful glance. "You don't sound convinced."

"More like I'm not sure what I'll do," he admitted. "I flew the Wolf because it was all I had, and because Uncle Charlie got it for me. Now he's gone and she'll be gone soon too."

"So you're going to give up being an independent captain?"

"Maybe?" Henry shrugged. "Honestly, Tia's been running things more than I have lately. I could hand the entire thing over to her and the others and go back home. Maybe retire early, or just sign up for one of the lines in Coalition space. Now that peace has come, I mean, I'd like to see what it's like to live in it again."

Felix frowned. "I wouldn't count on the peace lasting," he said, shaking his head. "Fuentes made a mistake there. The League's not done with us."

"Maybe not. Nothing we can do about that, though." Henry shook his head. "And I'm still not sure what I'll end up doing. Right now, it's the furthest thing from my mind."

"Yeah, I can imagine that." Felix sighed. "First things first, right?"


Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Yanik found Vidia in the Majha galley, trying out the ship's food. Vidia finished swallowing while noting his arrival. He nodded. "How're ya doin', friend?"

"Nothing has changed," Yanik said succinctly.


Something in the human man's tone sounded different. "You regret my condition, and the things I have said?"

"I regret many things." Vidia set his food to the side. "And I understand what ya said before, why ya feel the way ya do. It's a part of ya faith."

"Then what troubles you?"

"The same thing, I suppose," he replied. "From one soul ta another, Yanik, I wonder if I've been a failure at my calling."

Aside from his habitual blinking, Yanik made no other motions. He waited patiently to hear what Vidia wished to say, if he chose to continue.

"I joined the Shadow Wolf eight years ago thinking it would be just another job as a spacer. But I thought I found the purpose God set for me when I got ta know Captain Henry," Vidia explained. "I met a man with a soul full o' pain where faith used ta thrive. Tending ta him an' helping him regain his faith, that seemed ta be the purpose set before me. So I stayed longer than I'd ever planned, working with the crew physically an' spiritually. Trying ta help them." He shook his head. "But I've done them no better. Felix has left us. The Captain's no closer ta regaining his faith or forgiving himself. If anything, I think he's drifted even further from God. He barely seems ta believe God exists anymore. An' I don't know how else I can help him."

Yanik set his hands together on the table. There was a pain in Vidia's voice he'd never heard before. "You have held to the needs of your faith," he said in a gentle tone. "You saw souls in need of care and sought to care for them. There is nothing else the Divine would seek from you. Krassha is upheld."

"Ah. Ya've spoken of your Divine Principles before." Vidia nodded. "Duty, Faith, Respect, Loyalty."

"And Honor," Yanik added.

"I'm reminded of the Five Pillars of Islam, except those are about acts, not concepts," Vidia noted.

"The Principles are both concept and act." Yanik raised a finger. "Duty means to act in accordance with one's obligations. Faith is to act with honesty and trust in the honesty of others, as well as believing in the Divine and the Principles. Respect is to behave accordingly to those you are obligated to and those with obligations to you. Loyalty is to keep true, in one's soul, to the Divine Principles and all obligations. Honor is recognizing obligations paid and received."

Vidia listened to each part listed. "Some of those sound similar. Acting is the same as keeping true, yes?"

Yanik shook his head. He understood the distinction was not an easy one. "Duty cannot be fulfilled without Loyalty. Without keeping true to the obligation, action alone cannot fulfill it."

A nod came from his friend. "Duty is the letter of the law, Loyalty is the spirit? If one does not obey the spirit, then the intent of the law can be undermined even if it is followed, at least in word?"

"Yes, it is very much like that."

"Yar faith places a lot of emphasis on the idea of obligation."

"All faiths do." Yanik's tongue flicked in the air with amusement. "Ours is simply honest about it."


"Yes. All faiths, all religions, are based on obligation," Yanik said. "Obligation to the believers to obey the laws and see to their rites and rituals. To have faith in the power of the Divine. The Divine, in all forms, has obligations to the souls of believers."

"Then how do ya explain when bad things happen ta believers?"

"You speak of physical matters," the Saurian hissed dismissively. "I speak of the soul. The Divine carries the obligation to care for the souls of believers, to see them safely from the world of flesh to the world of the spirit."

The look on Vidia's face betrayed how intently he was thinking about it. "I suppose… yes, I can see what ya mean. An' ya hold all faiths ta this, yes?"

"Yes. The roads to the Divine are many, and all souls have their own."

"True, it's true."

Yanik enjoyed the insightful look on Vidia's face. They were spiritual beings, perhaps more than others, and it was rewarding to speak like this with someone who could appreciate it. He might have continued if not for a tremor in his gut. "I will return shortly," said Yanik, standing up. "Doctor Kiderlein insists my diet remain regular if I am to heal. I must see to a meal."

"I'll be waiting right here for ya ta come back," Vidia promised.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Aft of the Majha bridge was the officers' wardroom. Inside were all the accoutrements of a CDF vessel, including the Terran Coalition flag and the CDF flag side-by-side. In the center was a table with a holoprojector built into it. That device was currently displaying a building, with known blueprints.

Kaiya sat at the head of the table. Felix was to her right alongside a uniformed Terran Coalition Marine, Major Albert Wu. Across from them sat Henry and Miri.

"So, we received another update from our asset in Thyssenbourg," Felix said. "They've confirmed Tia's being held here, in the prison at the so-called 'Justice and Rehabilitation Center' in Thyssenbourg. It's run by the Hestian Security Forces who are, yes, under Antoine Rigault's command."

"A prison in the middle of their capital city?" Wu's voice betrayed his confusion. The tone of his skin was dark, like Henry's, while his facial structure was definitely East Asian. "It must be a security nightmare for them."

"It's not a major prison, just a holding facility." Henry shook his head. "The Hestian government uses penal labor. All their real prisons are labor camps attached to mines, most of them infested with toxic byproducts. Between that and the lack of healthcare for injuries and sickness, they're nothing more than a delayed death sentence."

"I thought that was the megacorps, given all the things Tia ranted about?" Felix asked.

"On Hestia, the government is the megacorps," Kaiya said. "The Republic of Hestia is a corporate oligarchy that pretends to have democratic legitimacy. All real power is in the hands of the Hestian Business Council, which approves proposed legislation before the National Assembly can vote on it. They've turned the entire planet into a network of personal fiefdoms."

Felix glowered at that. Beside Henry, Miri spoke up. "Do we know more about what the projects are? The ones Rigault is putting so much effort into?"

"The asset hasn't been able to determine anything beyond the fact of experiments." Felix swallowed. "They're using prisoners at the Center for whatever they're doing, and that includes Tia."

Henry swallowed and tried not to imagine what was being done to Tia. She was one of his first long-term crew on the Shadow Wolf, and it made him feel even worse for failing to stop Kepper from escaping with her.

From across the room, Felix's eyes met his. Henry forced his expression to go neutral as Felix spoke. "Well, it could make getting her out easy. From the way it looks, this place is hardly Lambert's Lament."

Wu nodded. "If we can get uniforms to pass as local security, at least for our ingress, we'll be able to hit objectives quickly, and by careful selection of positions, we can resist a lot of firepower."

"The problem will be if we take too long, then they have other resources in the capital to call in."

"Agreed, Ms. Gaon."

"We'll divide into two teams, then." Felix tapped the table. "Captain Henry and his team will enact the rescue mission by hitting their jail. Major Wu, you and your team will join me in going for their main computer access. We'll get access to their central cores and do a data dump into portable drives. We should find all the evidence we need to see what Rigault's up to with the League. Afterward, optimally, we all extract to the Shadow Wolf."

"What if we're cut off from each other?" Miri asked.

"Then my team is best-suited to go SERE," Wu offered, referring to the special forces training for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. "We have the training and means to get into the countryside and hide until exfiltration can be arranged. Your people can bring a data collector and more drives with them. If necessary, we can dump the contents of our portable drives into yours via a QET link as you extract."

"That works." Felix's head twisted to face Henry and Miri again. "We just need to make sure we can get you out of the system before their patrol ships react."

"Linh—Chief Khánh, I mean—figures we can get forty-five percent thrust on the fusion drive without overwhelming our inertial compensators. That should prevent further structural damage." Henry shook his head as he recalled the rest of Linh's discussion on the matter. "The problem is that, at that level, we're only ten percent over the max thrust on the GXRs. If they've got ships with proper military plasma or fusion drives, they can make an intercept before we get to the lunar L5 jump point."

"And if you set your fusion drives higher, you risk your ship," Kaiya noted.


"We could use brief bursts of higher thrust," Miri recommended. "It would give us extra delta-v, perhaps enough to get our velocity high enough to minimize their ability to intercept."

"It's an idea, and if necessary, we'll go with it."

"Are you sure it won't tear your ship apart, Captain?"

To Kaiya's question, Henry shook his head. "Not entirely. And it'll certainly cut into our remaining structural life. But to get Tia out of there, my whole crew will take that chance."

"Sounds like we've got a plan, then." Felix clapped his hands on the table. "Let's get our people briefed and make our preparations."

"Let's," Henry agreed.


The chains in Tia's cell clinked as she struggled to turn on the hard cot. Her entire body quivered again, another aftershock of sorts to the use of the neural implant on her body. It was weaker than it'd been at the end of the last session, causing Breivik to insist they stop due to concerns about the device.

The device. Not her. For all he seemed a little squeamish about it, the damn League doctor cared more for his precious device than he did for her. He obeyed every order to continue her torture without comment.

Tears filled her eyes. Frustration, pain, rage, fear—she felt it all. She could imagine the world this cruel thing would create. Of men and women, children, innocent workers, all turned into puppets and forced to labor, being tortured with the device if they displeased in some way.

Her thoughts drifted to Xom Lang, and what the device would do to her hometown. To her parents. To her siblings. Her cousins. Every one of them would suffer this fate.

Through her despair, one point of defiant pride burned fiercely. She'd resisted, despite all of the agony she'd suffered. That was her one bright point, her one vindicating thought. Now I have to resist again. And again. And again. Until they kill me or I am rescued. She wiped the tears from her eyes and clenched her hands into fists. And right now, I don't care which it is.

Footfalls came to a stop behind her. She turned in time to see corporate security guards open her cell door. One unlatched her restraints from the ring on the floor while the other approached to haul her up. "Time for more testing," the man pulling her to her feet said.

She snarled at them both. Her voice was pure acid when she spoke. "How proud are you of what you're a part of? Turning human beings into puppets?"

Their only answer was to drag her along.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Breivik entered the small office and kept himself still while Commander Aristide finished reading something on a digital tablet. She tapped the device a few times and set it down. "Doctor. You wished to see me?"

The older man swallowed. Aristide, like all officers of External Security, had the power to destroy him. To ruin his career, to ruin his life, to see him executed or sent to a resocialization camp, all possible outcomes should she deem it necessary. "I wished to discuss the project with you."

"It is of importance. Do feel free to speak on the matter," she answered.

"The… use of the device on Subject Nguyen." He kept his arms to his sides and fought to keep the tremor from his voice. "I understand the reasoning, but I must warn you that we are using the implant in a way it was not designed for. There's no telling what long-term use as a… as a pain stimulator might do to the subject or the device itself." He spoke the words, regretting their necessity. This isn't what I wanted. This isn't at all how it was meant to go. "And this entire matter distracts us from important work. Mastering motor interactions, the physical element, is only a stepping stone to our purpose of thought interaction. Once we achieve the full potential of the implant, we can make anti-Social thinking physiologically impossible. The gain for Society will be immeasurable, and it will greatly aid our efforts in the years to come. The more we are distracted by this torture business, the harder it will be to finish the real work."

Aristide folded her hands on her desk. He searched her expression for displeasure and found nothing, which was not entirely comforting regardless. "I appreciate your concern, Doctor. You are performing your duty in expressing them to me."

"So what do you wish me to do?" He hoped she'd see things his way.

"Continue your experiments as you can. You are correct that ending the possibility of anti-Social thought is our ultimate goal." She shook her head. "But for the time being, we must also humor Director Rigault. As repulsive as his naked individualism is—" and she said "individualism" with all the disdain Breivik ever heard her muster for a word "—our work here requires we continue to work with him. That includes satisfying his amusements. For the moment, that is your priority, and you will do as he requests without protest. That is a direct order from External Security."

He nodded slowly, trying to hide his disappointment. "Understood, Commander."

"Now see to your work, as I see to mine, and Society will benefit."

"Yes, it will. Thank you for your time, Commander." He turned and left the office. I cannot complain. Rigault's resources make this work possible without causing issues back home with the Committee of Social and Public Safety. But he is such a repulsive man. He contemplated how much work it would take before he could put an implant on Rigault and stop his individualistic behavior.

I can muse idly another time. I must get back to work. The future of the galaxy depends on my success.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The guards pulled Tia into the room with the table. Antoine sat in a chair, the amnesty paperwork before him, while Dr. Breivik sat at the side of the table. Antoine's eyes focused on her, his artificial one inhuman in its sapphire glow. "Sign the amnesty," he said, his voice down to a growl. "You know you're going to break eventually."

She was plopped into the chair opposite him. He thrust the paper in front of her with a pen. Tia glared at it and then at him. "No," she declared.

Antoine made a simple gesture with his left hand. Breivik sighed and brought up the digital tablet in his lap.

Tia reflexively steeled herself, not that it mattered any. The pain returned in full force. She felt like her entire body was being coated in flame and acid, like she might just disintegrate if it continued. I'm not really being hurt. It's this machine. It's tricking my brain. The mantra continued as a desperate distraction, but she couldn't hold the thought. The agony was too great, so great, she couldn't even breathe properly.

When it ended, she was coated with sweat. She quivered in the seat and slumped forward, sucking in air greedily with deep breaths.

"Sign the document."

"No," she rasped.

The pain came again. She was screaming, yet it seemed a distant thing. All of her senses were overwhelmed. She couldn't move, she couldn't think. Time stopped. All of her existence was consumed with the agony that seemed to roar through her body.

Eternity passed and the pain stopped. Time resumed. She breathed deeply and, despite everything, let out a small whimper. Tears flowed from her eyes, tears she'd sworn to never let her oppressors see.

"You're failing, Hestian," Antoine said, his deep voice smooth as silk. "If you sign the document, this ends."

An empty moment passed. The temptation came to her. Sign. End it. Just end it. She couldn't go through that again. She shouldn't have to. She'd fought as hard as she could, hadn't she?

Hadn't she?

Did it matter? Could any human being be asked to devote so much to a cause? To condemn themselves to something like this? To pain like that? What was she accomplishing anyway? Nobody knew this was going on, save those in the room. She would inspire nobody by continuing on.

"No," she groaned.

A flicker of annoyance crossed Antoine's face. "More power," he said.

"Director, the device…"

"More. Power. Doctor." Each word dripped malicious hate.

Tia's eyes met Breivik's. There was uncertainty in them. Certainly no malice.

That was what made it even worse when his finger went to the tablet again.

Everything dissolved into pain again. Her head felt like it was burning with the heat of a star. She screamed until her throat was raw, though she could barely feel it and didn't hear it. Darkness seemed to yawn before her, threatening to pull her in toward its endless oblivion.

Just before she tipped in, the pain stopped. Through her ragged breaths, she heard Breivik speak. "The device is giving overload errors, Director. I had to shut it down."

"We can always implant a new one," he growled. His eyes turned toward her again while she was slumped over the table. "You're failing. I can see it in your eyes. Sign the amnesty and this ends."

Ordinarily, she would have glared at him. But she didn't have the energy. Though the pain was gone, its shadow still filled her heart with dread. She didn't want to suffer that again.

To her shame and horror, she felt her hand slipping forward on the desk. Her fingers extended out, moving centimeter by centimeter for the offered pen.

In the corner of her eye, her oppressor grinned. He sat back in his chair and folded his hands on the table. An anticipatory gleam filled his eyes.

Her fingers reached the pen. She slid it into the grasp of her right hand. Her other hand reached for the paper.

Am I going to do this? The thought came to her, and the immediate, instinctive answer was a resounding YES. She had to do it. She had to stop the pain. She simply had to. I can't go on! she wailed to herself in terror and despair.

It won't change anything except ending the pain. I can always testify that it was under coercion. That I was forced to, tortured into it. So many of us have suffered the same, I'm no better than them. She brought the pen up and slowly moved it toward the paper. I don't want to hurt again.

Pain still came. She felt shame at what she was thinking. She was going to surrender to them. That's what this was. A surrender. Her oppressors would take this paper, with her authentic signature, and a recording of her signing it, and present it to her people. Her family, her comrades, would know she'd been broken by them. They'd know it.

It's not them suffering here! The part of her that wanted to sign was adamant. Not signing meant more pain, and she didn't think she could take it. What good is fighting them? They'll just forge your signature if they need to!

If I surrender once, I'll keep surrendering.

For a moment, her thoughts went to Linh and the others in her cell. Ngoc, Quang, Kanda, Thuần and Mathilde, Nhung. They'd all lost that day. She'd lost too, her blood, but they lost their lives, and Linh her arm. All lost for the cause of their freedom.

If you sign this, you spit on that sacrifice. You spit on their memories.

Her hand stopped moving toward the paper. Her tormentors noticed this. "You've come so far, Hestian," Antoine said, his voice again smooth. "You know it's hopeless. End your suffering."

She ignored his words. Her mind fixed on the image of Jim. The pain she saw in his eyes whenever the past came up. He'd faced his own choice, he'd listened to his despair, and he'd cut his losses. And look at what it did to him. Look at the regret, the pain that it brought him.

"Sign the paper, Hestian. You know you will eventually, so why wait?" The smoothness was still there, but beneath it, she could hear harshness.

She swallowed, caught between the two conflicting impulses. The choice was clear. Resistance or submission?


Within her, a flame lit back to life, fueled by her fury at her enemies. Everything Tia had left filled her tired body. She had just enough energy to push herself up and forward. Her hand balled into a fist around the pen and jabbed it down toward the table.

Antoine moved a second too quickly for her. Instead of the pen tip burying itself into his hand, it hit the plastic surface of the table.

He didn't bother giving an order. His left hand reached over and ripped the data tablet from Breivik's hands. His right hand came over and stabbed at the surface.

The pain returned, so intense she didn't feel herself all over and out of her chair to the floor. It became her existence again, all save the darkness she felt yawning ahead.

This time, she was ready for it. She tried to pull herself into that darkness, as it had to be better than what she was suffering now. But she couldn't move. She couldn't do anything.

Thankfully, this time, the darkness came for her, and she happily fell in.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Antoine was so intent on Tia's twitching body that he couldn't keep Breivik from reclaiming the tablet from his hands. The League doctor's eyes scanned the displays. "You fool!" he spat, his hand coming up to the control. The body stopped twitching.

"I didn't say you could turn it off!" Antoine shouted at him.

"She's unconscious; she's not feeling it anyway!" Breivik retorted. "Besides, you're burning the implant out!"

"You can put in another one." His tone retained its fury. That bitch, she actually tried to strike me! Damn Hestian stubbornness!

"Not if the implant takes her CNS with it!" Breivik retorted. "We've already lost subjects to such overloads! You could kill her, or reduce her to a vegetative state with brain damage, or cripple her nervous system to the point the implants won't work!"

That brought him pause. Rene would be furious, as would the Council. We can't have her dying in custody. Not yet anyway. Antoine bit into his lip and put reins on his temper. "Very well. Log the data on this exercise, and we'll try again later." He gathered the amnesty papers from the table.

"In time, it won't matter," Breivik said. "Once we can achieve thought interaction, we can make it impossible for her to refuse to sign. You will get what you need."

"That could be months from now by your own admission, and we require her signature sooner than that," Antoine answered. "Keep me informed of all testing, as usual, and I will see you later, Doctor." He took a last glance at Tia's body before stomping toward the door.

On his trip back to his office, Antoine continued to seethe over Breivik's actions. He should go to Aristide about it, but the less he had to interact with that ice-cold Leaguer, the better. The League was useful to his plans to an extent, but in the long run, he was no fool. They would come for him as quickly as they were coming for those moralist holier-than-thou hypocritical busybodies on Canaan. The time would come when he would break from them. He just had to be ready.

His temper was under control when he got to his office. He sat at his desk and set the amnesty papers to the side. Only then did he notice a message on his system. He opened it up.

Cousin, we are running out of time—Rene.

Attached to the message was a hyperlink onto the GalNet. Antoine checked it and found he was looking at the Rand City Financial Times. The headline made him bristle.

Rigault Heavy Industries Suffering Capital Shortage?

Someone's been talking, he thought. I will have to accelerate the timetable.


The Majha jumped into Hestia's solar system at the commercial limit, obeying the traffic control rules for the system. This gave them nearly half a day before they made orbit.

Henry was asleep when they made the jump in. After waking, he went to the bridge and met with Kaiya. He noted that her traffic-monitoring holotank showed a vessel not far away burning quickly towards them. The IFF it was giving off was government and its size classification marked it as a cutter. "Company coming?"

"They haven't hailed or given any other signal or challenge," Kaiya said. "We're on standby until they pass."

The following twenty minutes were tense for Henry. If the cutter searched the Majha they'd find the Shadow Wolf in its pod. A visual scan could confirm his ship's identity, even if they had the IFF off. Their entire operation would be compromised before they were in orbit. His eyes remained fixed on its location as it drew closer and closer.

It was still fifteen minutes before it could intercept that its course shifted ever so slightly. At first, Henry wasn't sure what it was doing. He ran the numbers in his head while observing the track. Slowly, a grin came to his face.

"They're not coming for us anymore," Kaiya noted.

"Nope. They're being clever." He held a finger toward a vessel burning out to the limit. "They burned toward us to throw that ship off the trail. By the time they see the cutter round us without stopping, they won't have time to accelerate to the limit before the cutter overtakes them."

"Better them than us," she noted. "Have you given any further thought to your departure from the system?"

"I have, but the plan's pretty much all we can do. Once we extract, we'll burn hard for the lunar L5 point."

"I'll be doing the same the moment we drop the Shadow Wolf from the pod," she said. "I'm a little worried, I don't deny. The security in-system is more active than usual."

"Yeah. Like they expect trouble." Henry's grin turned appropriately wolfish. "Smart of them, because that's just what I'm aiming to give them."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Everyone moved into position in the minutes before the Majha made orbit of Hestia. Yanik would be in command of the Shadow Wolf, with Cera on the helm and Pieter, Samina, and Linh running the engines while Oskar stood by in the infirmary. Henry went down with Miri, Piper, and Brigitte for the rescue team. For purposes of space, Felix went down in their cargo shuttle while Wu and his team flew down in a second.

The shuttles' exteriors lit up with red as they made atmospheric entry. Their entry course was carefully regulated and Piper and Miri, manning the flight controls, obeyed them to the letter. This brought them in a high spiral over Thyssenbourg.

The city grew larger as they approached. It was like many great cities in Neutral Space or indeed the Terran Coalition. Great spires of glass and steel reached into the sky by hundreds of meters. Nestled among them were smaller buildings that were no less impressive. The streets were laid in a classic grid pattern.

"Looks posh," Brigitte said. "Not quite what I imagined from hearing Tia talk."

"That's because it's the city center, Brig," Henry replied. "It's where the megacorps keep their offices, as well as supporting businesses and agencies. This is where the people who come from other worlds live and work. The Hestians' homes aren't so nice." After several seconds, he motioned again to the window. Their approach was bringing them in toward the spaceport. Outside of the far walls were smaller buildings, packed in and not so elegantly arranged. "Actual Hestians like Tia have to live in the slums, unless they're members of the planet's government. Those get the privilege of living in the city center and using the shops and stores there like the off-worlders do. Even the Hestians who work as domestic staff aren't allowed to shop in those stores."

"That makes no sense," Felix groused. "Businesses want to make money, right? Hestian money spends just as well, doesn't it?"

"They feel they earn greater overall profit by keeping the Hestians under strict control," Miri observed from the co-pilot seat. "Although I don't think some of them care. They enjoy the power."

The conversation ended as Piper brought them in for their landing. Their rented hangar was large enough for both shuttles, which sat side by side. "There's nobody to fly the shuttles back, so is the Majha crew writing them off?" she asked.

"Kaiya's sending pilots down with the next group of shuttles," Felix explained. 'They'll fly back when the Shadow Wolf makes her landing. Now everyone shush."

Felix's instruction was well-placed. Through the shuttle cockpit window, they could see the vehicle pull up. They disembarked from the shuttle in time for the uniformed personnel in the vehicle to step out. They were customs inspectors, the bane of independent traders everywhere.

To make things look good, the teams unloaded the shuttles. Each had several crate stacks of raw grain picked up on their way to Hestia, mostly from other worlds in Neutral Space. The customs inspectors were painfully thorough, inspecting each crate carefully while one of their number scanned the shuttles directly. Everyone waited with patience until they were done and left them alone. Only when they were gone did the two teams feel safe in opening up the shuttles' scan-shielded smuggling holds to pull out their gear.

The time wasted in waiting did ensure their rented vehicles arrived. Ordered by the Majha directly, three aircars pulled up, enough to carry both teams and their gear. The attendees departed without a word and they loaded up the cars. They drove away in a single line.

With customs having okayed their arrival, the security gate gave them only the most precursory check before allowing them out. The lead vehicle had Wu and three of his people. In the middle vehicle, Felix drove while Henry sat in the front. Brigette sat in the back with Piper and some of their gear. Miri drove the rear vehicle with the rest of Wu's team with her.

Traffic thickened and thinned as they went, and traffic lights worked just about the same as they did on other worlds. At some of the stops, the local businesses were close enough to see the writing on their doors and windows. In virtually every case, they included, in big lettering, the words "Corporate ID Required for Service." Some outright stated "Hestians Not Allowed" in multiple languages, while employment flyers sometimes included "Hestians Need Not Apply."

It wasn't new for Henry. He'd seen it before. The others hadn't, however, and he glanced around to see their bewildered reactions. Felix's face quickly shifted to disgust. "This is like something from a nightmare. Telling people where they can and can't live, or shop. On their own damned world too. Tia didn't do this justice."

"To be fair, this got worse after she had to flee," Henry noted quietly. "It's a way to control them. They limit the Hestians' choices to keep power over them. That way, they can mine Hestia's mineral wealth more easily. It's all they care about."

Felix glowered and said nothing else.

Their path took them to the northern part of Thyssenbourg and a housing complex for offworlders. "Our asset on-site keeps a safehouse here," he explained, not needing to say anything further. He followed Wu to a parking space outside of one of the apartment homes. Many of the spaces were empty and the three vehicles were able to park together.

The safehouse was meant for two people, with a pair of bedrooms, a pair of bathrooms, a living area, and a kitchen. Once they were all securely inside with their gear, a sweep for surveillance devices was quickly made and their safety confirmed. Felix approached the closet in the main bedroom. "Our man said he had the uniforms here… ah, there we are."

For the next half hour, everyone made ready. First, they shed their spacer jumpsuits to make room for the light tactical armor they'd hauled down in one of the packs. Over the armor, they donned the Rigault Corporate Security uniforms necessary for their plan. Their sidearms and weapons were carefully checked, and the data drives and devices handed out. As they finished their preparation, Felix spoke up. "If it all goes right, this will be easy. Let's assume it won't. Stay sharp, keep your focus, and maintain fire discipline. We're not here to fight a war. We find out what the League is doing, we get the prisoner, and we get out. Questions?"

There were none. The prior briefings during the journey to Hestia sufficed for them all.

Wu checked his wrist-mounted link. "We're synchronized. Everyone, let's move out."


Sleep brought no rest to Tia. The nightmares haunted her, dreams of Hestian children lining up to have the implant installed in their necks. She saw entire fields of her people standing in arranged lines like machines, moving about until they formed the Rigault logo while Antoine watched with a smile.

She woke in time for breakfast, such as it was. After her ordeal of the prior day, she was famished. She couldn't resist the bread roll laid out for her.

As she ate, she looked across the row of cells to the opposite cell. There was a new occupant; a younger man was there, no older than thirty, with a darker olive complexion and a face she found familiar. She went up to the bars, as far as she could with her chains stuck to the ring on the floor. After finishing her roll, she checked to see if the guards were in sight. When they weren't, she called out to him. "What's your name?"

"Quan," he replied. His eyes focused on her, searching her face as if he could remember it. "Quan Khánh."

Her mouth hung open for a moment. "Little Quan?" she asked. "Linh's cousin?"

For a moment, he seemed surprised. Then his eyes widened with recognition. "Tia? Tia Nguyen?"

She nodded. "You remember me, then?"

"Yes. Yes, I remember… you and Linh gave me and the others your books, the forbidden ones." He shook his head. "We took them to heart even after the revolution failed, when the corps raised our food prices to punish us. We read them until they fell apart, then we found new copies. I joined the Party when I was seventeen."

"Then you are Comrade Quan now."

He nodded. "Is Linh still alive? Have they killed her like the others?"

She shook her head. "The last I heard, she was fine."

Relief showed on his face. It didn't last. "You're one of the subjects for their neck implant?"

"I am. You know about it?"

"Others here have been taken. Some don't come back."

Tia thought of the rooms she'd seen in the labs. "I've seen them. They are unconscious, or mindless."

"What about you? You look terrible."

She swallowed. "They're torturing me with the device. Using it to turn on the pain center in my brain. Rigault wants me to sign the amnesty."

His lips pursed. "Have you?"

She shook her head. "No. No, I've resisted so far." She swallowed. "I'm not sure how long I'll hold out, but I won't dishonor our dead comrades."

He opened his mouth to speak but stopped. Tia heard the footfalls of guards coming down the hall and pulled back from the cell door.

As she feared, they were there for her. "So more being a puppet, or more torture?" she asked them.

"Testing time, Hestian," one replied.

As usual, the chain was removed from the ring in the cell. She was escorted out, exchanging a glance with Quan as she exited the cell. His eyes focused on her intently and he nodded. His lips moved and she recognized what he was trying to say: Stay strong.

I only hope I can, she thought as she was led down the hall.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The anticipation Henry felt had the familiar tinge of pre-battle stress, or the kind he'd have while preparing to deal with dirty customs inspectors and the like. They were going into danger and it couldn't be avoided. He sensed a similar tension in Miri, while in the back seat, Piper was fidgeting in the seat. More than any of them, she hadn't signed up for this kind of thing. If things were as they should be, she'd be back on the ship and Yanik would be here.

Brigitte seemed to notice Piper's anxiety. Her hand came over to grip Piper's, a supportive gesture. "It'll be okay, Piper," she murmured in a low voice.


They pulled up to the security gate. It was a manned post and a woman with a brown skin tone waved them through as soon as their IDs registered on the gate scanners.

As they pulled out of earshot, Piper murmured, "Let's just hope these things work. Getting this many IDs doesn't sound plausible."

"Rigault's a megacorp and employs thousands of security personnel across its holdings," Miri said. "Get ahold of their codes and then all you have to do is sell a reason you're coming in, and given the security around here, it's not hard to present yourself as new assignments that the system's not properly recognizing yet."

"Then it's just the case of a sympathetic guard who trusts the uniform more than the system saying we're not supposed to be here today," Henry added. "Everyone knows the computers are stupid half the time and trouble all of the time, after all."

Miri brought them to a stop in the parking area, finding a slot between two other aircars. They got out and picked up the provided rifles and sidearms for their uniforms. Their personal weapons were kept in hidden back holsters.

They entered the building as separate groups, out of sight of one another. With the aid of the blueprints they were shown, Henry and the others entered the halls leading to the confinement area. He kept an eye out for the reactions of those around them. If they aroused suspicions in any way… things will go to crap real fast. I can't let myself dwell on that.

At one junction, they came across a trio of guards escorting a prisoner, a Hestian man. At first, there was no interaction. Just as they passed by, one of the guards called out, "Hey!" Henry and the others looked toward him. "New assignment, right?" he asked.

"Right," Henry said. "Can I do something for you?"

"Yeah. My people are due for their break. You're just getting on." The man motioned to the prisoner. "This one's due in the labs for the operation. Doctor's orders. You take him."

We're just starting and something's already gone wrong. Henry glanced toward the others. This was far out of their way and would drastically alter their timetable. Miri nodded at him, her way of telling him to agree, and he recognized she was right. Refusal would undermine their cover, especially since this man was possibly a supervisor. And it wasn't time to begin shooting yet.

"Sure." Henry gestured to Brigitte, thankful her mohawk was trimmed down enough to fit in the security cap she was wearing. "We'll take him there."

"Good man, Officer…"

Henry forced himself not to glance at his corporate ID. "Miller."

"Good man, Miller." He took the prisoner from the other men and pushed him toward Henry. "Be careful in the labs. It's a need-to-know thing over there."

"Of course it is." Henry took the man by his arm while Brigitte covered him with her sidearm, a stunner. He recalled what the blueprints said about the lab entrance, but the prints were vague about what was inside. This is going to be a pain.

By now, the relieved guards and their manager were walking away. Miri got close and whispered to him, "We'll get Tia. You see to this until we radio for you."

"Right. Good luck."

Miri continued on with Piper, leaving Henry and Brigitte to escort the prisoner toward the lab area. The man trembled a little, and Henry could see the fear in his eyes. Sorry, pal, but I'm not here for you, he thought, even as he wondered if there'd be a way to help his unwanted prisoner too. We could get a lot of people out on the Wolf…

For the moment, though, they had to keep up appearances. They started walking toward the labs.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Miri was no stranger to how operations could go awry. As things went, this was hardly a difficulty compared to being blown this early, so she had little anxiety about the matter while leading Piper through the halls to the cells. "It'll be fine," she murmured to the other woman, seeing her uncertainty.

"It won't be fine until we're back on our ship, with Tia, jumping into another solar system," Piper hissed back.

And maybe not even then, Miri thought. The HBC's megacorps wouldn't give up on whatever was going on so easily.

They found the security door for the cell block with the adjoining security station. "Rounds already?" the man there asked. "They're really paranoid about this group."

"I don't ask the questions," Miri replied, shifting her accent to sound Lusitanian. "I just do what I'm told and collect the check."

"Same here." The guard waved them through.

Security station checks the door, then. This could be tricky getting out.

Miri considered ways of dealing with the security station while she and Piper walked along the cells. The cell block was that of a conventional jail more than prison, with about two meters between cells on either side. Each cell used bars, with a door set into them, as opposed to a solid door with a viewing port. It gave the block a more dungeon-like atmosphere as much as that of a jail.

Piper stopped at a cell and looked into it with an expression of bewilderment on her face. Miri stepped up beside her and noted that the woman inside, clad in an orange jumpsuit, was staring at the ceiling as if they weren't there. She turned on her cot and shivered.

Piper noted the chain on the floor, strapped to a ring and leading to the woman's neck. "My God, they're chained up like animals," she murmured.

"I know. Let's keep going."

As they went on, they found other similar cases. While some of the prisoners had sullen or fearful looks, others seemed particularly cowed. They flinched even from the approach of the two. Terror and fear showed in their eyes. HaShem, what is going on here? Miri asked in her mind and soul. Why do they act this way? Have they done this to Tia?

They went down the length of the cells, aisle by aisle. A few of them were empty, but not many.

And not one of them contained Tia.

Miri finally brought out her link, which was provided by Felix's team, a specialized link that used QET transmission to evade jamming or any emissions detection gear. "This is Gaon," she whispered. "Tia's not here. I repeat, she's not in the cell block. She must be in the labs."

"Copy," Henry murmured back.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

It wasn't a long trip to the lab wing of the building. Given the orders, Henry figured they were due to take the man to the operating theater, which was identified on one of the signs with a helpful arrow pointing the way. At least it's on the same floor. They continued on.

"Please take me back," the Hestian man begged, his English thickly accented. "I have a wife. A daughter. I was just getting them some food. I didn't know the money was stolen…"

Henry shook his head. He might have said something, which would have only made him feel worse, but he was distracted by the sound of a distant groan from ahead. The trio walked up to the threshold of a door that looked into a ward of some kind.

Multiple gurneys and beds were in the room, and Hestians inhabited them all. They were strapped down, which seemed unnecessary to Henry, since they looked completely out of it. Almost half were outright comatose. "What the hell…?" he muttered under his breath. A horrified thought took him that this was linked to why Tia was missing from any of the cells. He almost entered the room to see if he'd find her in there. But a second sweep of the room with his eyes showed none of the people fit her appearance.

He glanced back toward the others. The prisoner was paling. Brigitte was too. "What are they doing to people?" she whispered.

"Let's get Tia first, then maybe we can find out," he whispered back..

After another couple of doors, they found one with the current placard bearing the words "Subject Implantation Theater."

"Please don't do this!" their prisoner cried. "Just let me go, please. I don't deserve this!"

"Deserve what?" Henry asked.

"They're turning people into puppets!" he insisted. "The guards talk about it; they taunt us that we'll all be implanted soon. We'll be forced to be loyal to them!"

It sounded outlandish, but given what they'd just seen with those people on gurneys, Henry had a very bad feeling about the entire situation. We've got to get Tia out of this.

That meant keeping their cover, though.

The door opened. A big male in an orderly's gown stood at the threshold. "Got the next one? We'll get him ready for the surgeons."

Something about the orderly's accent sounded distantly familiar. Henry struggled to think of what it was.

"No! No!" The man squirmed against Henry's grasp, as if to escape. "You can't do this! Please don't do this!"

Brigitte's stunner pressed against his back. The man's body seized up. The orderly joined Henry in pulling him in. Another approached and Henry let go so they could take over. Brigitte stepped up behind him.

The room was an operating theater, that much was certain, with the tools of a surgeon in a tray beside a surgical bed. Said bed had a tilt base with a motor and straps for multiple-point restraint. The orderlies carried the stunned man to the table.

Henry's jaw clenched. His stomach turned at the thought of what might be going on here.

Before he could turn to Brigitte, one of the lab-coated figures stepped up, a middle-aged man with graying dark hair. He spoke in a particular accent Henry couldn't quite place, save it was almost German in its sounds. "Ah, thank you, Officer… Miller. I can assure you, your presence will no longer be—"

The doctor stopped speaking as his eyes passed toward Brigitte. Henry glanced toward her and felt his stomach twist at the way her eyes widened in surprise… and recognition. Henry's eyes turned back to the coated man, whose eyes betrayed the same emotion.

The doctor turned, very swiftly, and Brigitte struck like a cobra. Her stunner pressed up against the doctor's back and discharged, a low sound. Henry was just quick enough to catch the man as he fell.

The sound he made in doing so brought the attention of the entire room. "He just fainted," Henry lied, hoping they'd buy it from how flustered he really was. "What do I do?"

Another individual, this one in scrubs, spoke up. "Poor Doctor Breivik's been overworked lately. Director Rigault's put him under a lot of stress. Officer, would you mind taking him to his office? I'll handle this operation and he can review it later, when he's recovered."

"Must be that Hestian woman he's spending so much time working with," one of the others said. "She's a fiery one."

The description was vague, but Henry decided to make a stab in the dark. "Oh? Would I know her if I saw her? Just in case I ever have to deal with her."

"She's about forty standard years. Short hair, and those gray eyes make me think of storm clouds." The man chuckled. "Not that you'll have many problems with bringing her to her cell. They test her more than anyone."

Definitely Tia, he thought. "Well, thanks for the head's up anyway." Considering his cover, he added, "Otherwise, I wouldn't know her from any of the others. You see one Hestian, you've seen them all."

The surgical team nodded without really agreeing. Henry motioned to Brigitte and they got Dr. Breivik to his feet and pulled him from the room.

He took a moment to feel guilty for the man they'd brought to be operated on, then flashed a look at Brigitte. "Do you know this man?"

"I recognize him," she said.

They stopped talking as a guard stepped around the T-junction ahead. He eyed them with bewilderment. "The doc fainted," Henry said. "Just trying to get him to his office."

"Oh, yes. This way." He came up and helped by taking Breivik by the legs, then guided them to the right of the junction. A few doors down, they stopped and the guard opened a door, revealing a small office inside. "Here."

"Thanks. Better get back to your rounds." Henry tried not to sound too eager.

"Yeah. Director Rigault's really on the warpath these days." The guard turned and continued on.

Henry and Brigitte maneuvered Breivik into his office and set him down in a chair. At this point, Henry, after glancing at the door to make sure the guard moved on, spoke to Brigitte. "He knows you, and you know him. He's a Leaguer, isn't he? That entire team was."

Brigitte nodded. A bitter look came to her face. "He was a doctor at the Millerton resocialization camp, the same one where Oskar worked and I was a prisoner."

"So what's he doing out on Hestia of all places?"

"I'm not sure. Back then, he was going to experiment on a lot of us. I was the first selected. But Oskar knocked him out and rescued me, then we ran. That's when we stowed away on the Shadow Wolf."

"Then… Oskar was involved in the experiment too?" Henry thought of what Oskar said about his past. He knew that a lot of it haunted him.

"I suppose." Brigitte's voice lowered to a hiss.

I can ask more later. Right now, we need to find Tia. "Then let's—"

Before he could finish, the stunner wore off enough that Breivik shifted in the chair. His eyes focused on them.

Well, might as well take what I'm given. Henry met his gaze. "I'm going to ask you something, and only the first time will be nice. Where is Tia Nguyen?"

Breivik's jaw clenched. His eyes went from Henry to Brigitte. "So it is you," he said. "Brigitte Tam'si."

"Yeah, it's me, and that's not what the man asked you," Brigitte answered.

"Then…" He swallowed. "Is Oskar still with you?"

"That's not the damn question!" Brigitte punched Breivik in the gut, drawing a wheeze from the older man. "Where is Tia?!"

"He's still with you, yes," Breivik murmured. "He was a fool, a noble-minded fool. If he'd but listened to me, we would have already completed the work!"

Henry took the opening offered. "What work is that? What's this about making people into puppets?"

"The only work that matters. The work that will bring an end to our struggles and introduce an age of galactic peace."

"And just what the hell does that mean?" Henry demanded.

Breivik smiled. "I suspect you will find out soon enough."


Access to the data center for the complex meant a descent into the sub-basement levels for Felix and Wu's team. Upon arrival, they entered a hall and the security station. Exfiltration will be tight, Felix pondered. They've got a stairwell too, but that's just as easily blocked.

The guard there waved them up, but stopped from going any further for the moment. "Normal shift change isn't for another two hours," the New Gabonese man said. "What's going on?"

"Surprise inspection, young man," Felix answered. "We're going to be checking the integrity of the data servers."

The guard's brow furrowed. "I wasn't informed of any inspections."

Felix grinned. "That's why they're called surprise inspections, son."

"This is irregular. I can't just let you through here." The guard reached for the intercom. "My supervisor will clear this up."

Felix sighed at the failure of his bluff. It's so much easier when they're not this smart. He pulled his sidearm as the guard's hand gripped the intercom. The stunner discharged just in time, striking the man and sending him down before he could make a call.

Wu motioned to his people. Two of them entered the station and picked up the unconscious guard. "Stunners like these are short-term; he won't be out long. Find a room and secure him."

"Yes, Major." The two lieutenant-rank Marines took the body away.

"We're on the clock now," Felix said. "Let's go."

They left the station vacant. Once the unconscious guard was left out of sight and restrained, the group hustled down the corridors as a team. Nobody ran, just in case someone noticed them on the security scanners, but there was a spring in their step to keep them moving to their ultimate goal: the complex's data center.

The data center was an unmanned chamber entered through a double door secured by a lock. Cabinets full of high-density databanks were lined in columns down the length of the room.

Wu's computer specialist, First Lieutenant Tamira Sanchez, stepped up to a panel built into one of the columns. "This room's not meant for direct access use," the Canaan native said, her dark eyes intent on her work as she opened up the panel. "I'll have to use a tap."

"Will that set off alarms?" Wu asked.

"Not if I'm careful," she said, reaching into the cabling. "If I can make it look like this is maintenance work, they won't realize what's happening."

"Get to it, then. Everyone assume defensive positions." Wu gestured around. "The moment they find that guard, they'll know something's wrong."

"Murphy strikes again," Felix groused.

While Wu's team did so, Felix got on the link. He tapped out a message to Henry and waited for a reply.

The reply that came was verbal. "She's somewhere in the labs," Henry said. "We're not sure where."

"Why the labs?"

"They're experimenting on her. The League is experimenting on her."

The fury in his old friend's voice matched his words appropriately. Felix frowned and shook his head. "They're here? Now?"

"Yeah. We need a location on Tia. This fellow isn't being cooperative."

Felix glanced toward Sanchez. The big woman shook her head. "I can't do a database search; it'd let them know I'm here," she said.

"I can't do anything about that, Jim," Felix said into the link. "I'm sorry."

A sigh came from the other end. "We'll manage."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Henry got off the link and turned toward Brigitte and their captive. "You have allies here," Breivik noted. "Infiltrators, since you wear Rigault's uniforms. What are you really here for?"

"A few things. Tia Nguyen is one of them." Henry glared at him. "Where is she?"

"I have no intention of cooperating with you, individualist," Breivik remarked. "My duty to Society is clear."

"Stuff all that." Brigitte reached to her back and pulled out her plasma pistol. She aimed it at Breivik's right knee and pulled the trigger. Henry barely got his hand over Breivik's mouth in time before the man tried to scream from the plasma scorching its way through the joint.

Brigitte moved her pistol to the left knee. "Talk," she demanded.

Henry removed his hand from Breivik's mouth while he placed his Rigault stunner to the back of the Leaguer's head. "Don't even think about it."

A pained, vicious look came to the man. "I read your file," he hissed at Brigitte. "You're the kind of animal my work is designed to treat, an anti-Social individualist."

Brigitte sneered. "Thanks for the compliment." Her finger stroked the trigger again. This time, Henry didn't quite get his hand over Breivik's mouth before his cry, but he did dampen it before it reached its crescendo.

Breivik was clearly in tremendous pain with his knees turned into roasted and incinerated flesh. Henry put the stunner away and put his CP-2520's barrel up to the League doctor's temple. "You get one more chance, Leaguer. Or I shoot you and we find her another way."

Fear flashed through the Leaguer's eyes. Henry thought it more than the fear of dying here. It was the fear of the consequences of cooperation, undoubtedly. The League was rarely kind to people who failed "Society."

Brigitte settled her pistol on his forehead, placing the barrel right on his flesh. "Talk."

He swallowed and lowered his eyes. "Motor control testing," he said softly. "Nguyen is there."

"Thanks," Brigitte replied, sarcasm thick in her voice.

Henry noticed her finger tense on the trigger. Breivik closed his eyes.

That was the moment the alarms started screaming.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The shriek of the alarm cried down the lines of cells, catching Miri and Piper by surprise just as they approached the guard station. On the other side, the male guard waved them back. "We're in security lockdown!" he shrieked through the door. "Keep an eye on the prisoners! We've got backup en route!"

Miri's first impulse was to refuse, but that wouldn't help. Unless he opened the door, they were trapped. She needed to get to him directly. Without better options, she nodded and turned to Piper. "Let's go."

Piper's expression betrayed her fear. They were trapped, and there was no telling what was happening. Seeing how it was affecting her, Miri stepped up and whispered, "We need to play the part. We'll think of something. Keep going!"

The order was enough. Piper turned and they went back into the middle of the cell block.

When they were far enough away, Miri activated the link. "What's going on?!" she asked urgently.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Felix was wondering the same at Miri's inquiry. Overhead, the sirens screamed. "Talk to me, Sanchez!" Wu shouted. "Is that us?"

"Not me," she said. "I'm still getting data."

"Not for long, if their security's quick." Felix frowned. "What the hell is going on here?"

"Colonel, Major, there's movement back at the lift. I think someone's coming down."

"Hold fire until we're made," Wu said. "Sanchez?"

"Doing this as fast as I can, sir," she answered.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

We're out of time. The thought seized Henry as much as it distracted Brigitte. A look of relief came over Breivik. "We've got to go," Henry said.

"Sure. After I kill this wanker." She focused her eyes, and her gun, on Breivik again.

Before she could fire, Henry gripped the gun, using his other hand to put a finger on his lips with the side effect of obscuring part of his face with his gun. Brigitte's initial fury at being stopped went away as she heard it too: approaching footsteps between the shrieks of the alarm.

The moment Henry lowered his hand, he put his CP-2520 back in his hidden back holster and redrew the stunner. He shot Breivik with it, quieting the doctor just before he could hear possible aid coming. "We've got to go," he urged.

Brigitte was clearly unhappy, but she let Henry pull her from the room.

There was no time to get back around the corner. The security team was coming from the opposite direction, four Rigault-uniformed men in all. The leader, with a skin tone matching Henry's, walked up to them. "What's your post on security alerts?" he demanded in a Franco-African accent. "This is our patrol. Director Rigault is not going to be happy if you're out of position."

Henry was quick to think of a reply. "Sorry, we were helping Doctor Breivik. We're on our way now to the motor control labs." He gave the man a sheepish look that covered the fear he felt that they were about to be discovered "We're still a little new here. Any pointers on the quickest way there? In case the Director shows up?"

The team leader grinned. "Back the way we came, second left, first right. Cut through the morgue."

"Thanks." He gestured at Brigitte. "Let's go, Officer Tshombe."

They split from the security team at that point. As they moved on down the corridor, past the way they'd brought Breivik before, Henry felt secure enough to use the link. "Miri, we're going to get Tia now. What's your status?"

"We're stuck on patrol in the cell block," she answered. "The guard won't let us out."

"Crap. See what you can do. We'll rendezvous near the entrance." Henry switched to Felix. "Felix, what's your situation?"

"In a word? FUBAR."

Somehow Henry wasn't surprised at that.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The crack of gunfire, sounding more distant than it was due to the walls, told Felix the team was made. "Hostiles coming from the lifts," one of Wu's Marines said. "They made us."

"You couldn't fake them?" Felix asked. "We're dressed as Rigault!"

"They demanded a check phrase."

"Right." Felix rubbed at his forehead. "Whatever caused the alarm, we're in it now."

"The alarm may have been a drill," Sanchez suggested. "I've still got access."

"You won't for long. We need to exfil, now."

Wu used his link to bring up a portable holo of the building blueprints. "If we hurry, we might make the stairs before they get in position to block them."

"Sounds good. Sanchez, what's our status?"

"Still copying data with the search parameters," she replied. "Not sure how much more there is; search is at seventy percent."

"That'll have to be enough." Felix gestured to her. "Unhook that thing and let's go."

"Yes, sir." Sanchez pulled the data recorder off the tap and stowed it in her pack.

Wu spoke into the link. "Sadiq, Osterman, we're moving out. Drop smoke and fall back through the data center."

"Yes, sir," came the response.

Felix hefted his rifle. "Let's move, people, double time!"

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

In the cell block, Piper and Miri moved out of earshot of the guard station. "We've got to do something to get out of here," Piper insisted.

"Panicking won't solve anything," Miri pointed out to her. "We've got to think this through. The guard station's the only way out, so we have to get the guard to open the door."

"You heard him. He wants us to stay in here."

"Until backup arrives, anyway. That will be our opening. But the moment we move, even if we take the station, we'll be targets."

"Right." Piper glanced around at their surroundings. A small grin came to her face. "What if we gave them something else to worry about?"

Miri noticed the glint in Piper's eye. "You want to free the prisoners?"

"Yeah. They'll be a hell of a distraction, won't they? And many of them might even get away!"

Miri noticed their discussion was starting to get some attention from those same prisoners. "It's a good idea," she said in a soft, low voice, to keep their planning between the two of them. "So we really need to get to the guard station."

"Let's make our round back."

With care, they made their way back toward the station, as if they were on rounds. Miri glanced toward the door and was disappointed to see the guard was alone. No reinforcements were showing up. They continued on, precious minutes ticking away.

At rounding the corner, Miri heard the tone of the guard station opening. Pulling Piper with her, she doubled back toward the entrance in time to see the first one coming through. "Thank goodness!" she called out, making sure to give a certain familiar urgency to her step. "All of that coffee's gotten to me!"

Behind her, Piper stifled a giggle.

The guard coming through the door smirked at her before stepping through. His compatriot came through as well and held the door open for her. "Should've watched how much you had," he admonished her.

"Tell me about it." Miri stepped through the door and went past the guard station. She heard the door close behind her with a click.

The guard there was already turning back to their monitors when she struck. She pressed her stunner up against his back and triggered it, bringing him down at his chair. Her eyes went to the control board and noted just the key she wanted. Upon pressing it, her eyes went to the monitor.

The cells opened simultaneously, freeing the prisoners within. The newly-arrived guards looked about, bewildered, and started going for their weapons.

Piper was ready. She pulled her charged particle pistol out from her back holster and fired it in rapid succession, getting both guards before they could realize where the fire was coming from.

Miri set the guard station door to open and went to the door. "You're all free, come on!"

"You can leave!" Piper added.

Most of the prisoners were still stunned at their cell doors opening. Only a few stirred in their cells in confusion, most not daring to even try exiting.

"We can all get out if you hurry, please!" Piper urged. "We're freeing you!"

A voice cried out in Hestian. It echoed, and no one was stirring from their cells.

Miri was about to tell Piper to join her, that they needed to go, when a young man emerged from one cell. "They think this is a trick," he said to Piper. "That you're leading them into a trap and they'll be punished even more severely."

"Would Rigault have his own people shot to do something like that?" Miri asked pointedly.

"Yes, he would." The young man frowned. "Who are you and why should we trust you?"

Miri clenched a fist in frustration. This is wasting time. "I'm Miri Gaon," she said before gesturing toward Piper. "This is Piper Lopez. We're with the Shadow Wolf crew, trying to rescue our shipmate Tia Nguyen."

Recognition flickered in the man's eyes. "You know Tia? What about Linh Khánh?"

"Her too." Miri decided not to mention her proximity yet. "While we're here for Tia, we're willing to take others with us too. Whatever they're doing here is terrible."

"I'm Quan Khánh." He gestured to them and called out in Hestian. More of the cells emptied, though not all, and a few of those went into other cells to bring out the most afflicted prisoners. Quan and one of the other men stripped the weapons from the fallen Rigault guards. "Linh is my cousin and Tia is my comrade. We'll join you."

"Then let's get going before we're out of time," Miri urged.

Quan called out in Hestian again. The prisoners surged for the door.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

For all the tension and excitement of their situation, Henry felt the worst part of it was the shortcut through the morgue. No one was present as they went through, but they found a group of bodies being prepared for autopsy, one of which was already cut into. Henry kept his eyes averted as much as possible to avoid getting sick from the sight. "There's way more bodies here than is reasonable for this place," he murmured.

"Got to be Breivik," Brigitte answered.

Just what did Oskar have to do with that man? he wondered. Was this what drove him to rebel? This project? Why didn't he mention it before? Even as that thought came to Henry, an answer went through his mind. Probably for the same reason you never want to talk about that night on the Clemenceau.

They cleared the morgue and followed the rest of the directions. It wasn't hard to find the motor testing lab, as it was called.

Henry's curiosity for the name remained after he opened the door. He stepped in to find two scientists at a table along the far side of the room. They had Rigault guards flanking them.

Tia was nearer to the center, standing by a series of stacks of plastic crates. She had one in her hands. With stiff, almost robotic movements, she set the crate down on another stack. She didn't seem to notice their arrival.

The scientists and guards turned toward them. "What's going on?" one of them asked, lowering a digital tablet as he did. "We didn't call for more guards."

Henry noted the way Brigitte tensed. She was getting ready to fight. We try a bluff first. Aloud, he answered, "Dr. Breivik sent us. He wants the subject returned to her cell until the alert's passed."

The scientists exchanged surprised glances. "That doesn't make sense," the second one said. "He told us to continue motor testing even through security alerts, unless he personally ordered us to stop."

"I just know what I'm told," Henry said.

"I'll call him," the other scientist said. She went for a link.

That was it. The bluff wouldn't work. Henry unslung the rifle from his shoulder and fired, catching the scientist on the arm. As she fell over, screaming in pain, he tracked the rifle over to the guard beside her and pulled the trigger as that guard brought his weapon up. His shot caught the guard in the chest. The man collapsed.

The other guard's rifle fired, but Henry was already falling to his side, pushed over by Brigitte. The shot that would have struck him hit the door instead. Despite the shove, he kept enough presence of mind to hold the rifle steady and fired. His shot was not precisely aimed and missed the guard, who turned his weapon toward Henry.

This turned out to be his mistake, as Brigitte fired her plasma pistol at his head. At the relatively close range, she couldn't miss. The plasma burned a hole into the man's head and killed him instantly.

By the time Brigitte's opponent hit the ground, Henry was scrambling back to his feet. He swung the rifle on the male scientists before he could get to a link. "Hands on your head, on your knees now!" He kept the rifle on target while the scientist, pale and petrified, obeyed. Brigitte went over to him while Henry dealt with the crying woman, kicking the link from her while she cradled her wounded arm. "Tia, it's okay, we're here," he called out.

There was no reaction. She didn't even turn toward them, or speak.

"Tia? What's wrong?" Brigitte asked.

After collecting the two links from the scientists, Henry went over to her. Tia looked like she was staring ahead at nothing. Her body remained still, her hands in mid-movement as if to pick up another of the boxes. "Tia?" Henry waved a hand over her eyes. They didn't react.

Or, at least, they didn't seem to. But there was something about them Henry found disconcerting. They weren't empty, but it was as if they weren't reacting to his presence either. She was just… looking ahead at nothing.

"Motor control." Brigitte looked down at the table and the tablet that the scientists were holding when they entered. "What the hell?!"

Henry went over to her and accepted the tablet. It showed the basic sexless figure of a human body, a bipedal form, that matched Tia's posture precisely, with the neck lit up with red. The screen showed things like "muscle loop" and "speech restrictions" as items to be toggled, as well as an option to "program movement." Another option showed "stimulate brain activity."

At the top of the screen read the words "Neuro Control Interface."

Something cold went down Henry's spine at reading those words. "Motor control testing," he murmured as realization filled him. "Oh God."

"They… they're controlling her," Brigitte stammered. "Like she was a machine."

Henry's stomach twisted as the ramifications hit home. This device turned people into literal puppets. Something like this would make their "socialization camps" look ineffectual. They could enslave entire communities with ease.

His finger went to vocal restriction and unchecked it. The light at the neck of the figure turned off.

"Jim! Brigitte!"

Henry's fingers moved over the controls, turning them all off. Tia slumped to the floor on hands and knees. He rushed to her side. "Tia? Are you all right?"

"I will be when I get this damned thing out of my neck!" she shrieked, her voice full of pain and rage. Now her gray eyes were wet with tears. Her expression was full of gratitude. "Thanks for coming, Jim."

"We're not done yet." As he said those words, Henry felt his own anger burning hotly. He turned on the two scientists. Fury filled his voice. "You're making people into puppets," he snarled.

"It's for Society!" the man shouted. "It'll put an end to the war, to all wars! Humanity will be united in peace!"

Henry wanted to pull the trigger more than anything. The white-hot fury resonating inside of him demanded it. It would balance the scales, grant some measure of security in a world that these people had unbalanced so terribly with their inhumane efforts. Stern justice for the people they'd harmed, people like Tia.

They're unarmed. They're helpless. One's already hurting. This wouldn't be justice; it'd be murder.

The rage refused to relent. They turned human beings into puppets! Experimented on them like animals, killed them!

The two arguments warred inside of him as his finger tensed on the trigger.

The resulting pulse blasts struck each scientist. Not in their heads, but in their shoulders. They cried out in pain while the woman, already wounded by his earlier shot, passed out.

"Animal," the man rasped. "Individualist beast."

Henry was already swapping to the Rigault-issue stunner. He fired it once, knocking the man out.

Brigitte went over to Tia's side. "Come on," she said. "I've got you." With her help, Tia got to her feet. "How are you feeling?"

"Exhausted. Angry." The fury was still in her voice, even as she seemed to be sobbing. "They made me a puppet. They tortured me."

The admission made his stomach turn. "Well, right now, let's get you out of here. This way," Henry said, putting his pistol up and adjusting his rifle. "The others are moving to a rendezvous. Until we get there, you're our prisoner being taken back to the cells."

"Makes sense," Tia agreed, her voice hoarse.

They departed the room and returned the way they came. To avoid getting lost, Henry backtracked to the morgue, as much as he would've rather avoided it. "Miri, Felix, we've got Tia," he said into his link. "We're heading out of the labs now."

"We're on our way back to the entrance," Miri said. "I'll signal the Wolf."

Felix answered next. "We're on our way back up as well. We're already in the stairwell."

Tia looked up with surprise. "Felix?"

"We should make—" The sounds of gunfire filled the link. "Woods! Man down, man—"

"Felix!" Henry tried to keep his voice low as they approached the exit to the morgue, but he couldn't keep the concern from his voice.

This provided the critical distraction that kept him from carefully checking the corridor. He stepped out of it and to his left…

…and found himself facing Commander Aristide and two League officers.


The gunfire in the stairwell diverted Felix's attention from the link. The point man, First Lieutenant Woods, fell on one of the platforms of the stairwell. His Rigault uniform was burned away by the shots, revealing the tactical armor underneath, while a shot to his thigh burned through flesh into bone. He cried out a warning as he hit the ground.

"Shooters above!" Wu shouted. Felix brought his rifle up as he went up the stairs. Woods, despite his injuries, had the presence of mind to get his weapon back into the firefight. He sprayed fire upward toward the platform above Felix's head. "At least two hostiles," he called out.

Wu's team moved like the professionals they were. Suppressive fire kept the heads of the other team down long enough for another member of the team to fling a stun grenade up and across the stairwell. It went off with a burst of light and a pair of thuds sounded.

More gunfire came from below. "Hostiles coming up!"

Felix bent low and helped Woods up. "I've got him, keep going!"

The team continued their way back up the stairwell to the ground level. Wu's second, Captain Cedric Lewis, helped Felix by taking the weight of Woods, who kept a sidearm in his free hand. Felix followed them, expecting more resistance from above at any moment.

He was pleasantly surprised by the lack of any. They got back to the ground level just in time for an announcement over the PA from a man with a French accent. "This is not a drill! There is a security breach in the complex! All security personnel arm and report to stations! I repeat, this is not a drill…!"

"Just our luck they schedule a damn drill the day we hit them," Felix grumbled. Sanchez came through the door behind him, her rifle leveled. The rest of the team came up and Osterman slammed the door closed. Another of the Marines, Sadiq, used the rifle to blast the door latch, sealing the stairwell.

Felix had the feeling they'd not seen the last of the security forces. He was proven right when Wu and his point man were forced back around the corner by gunfire. Felix came up beside Wu. "At least four hostiles holding the main corridor," Wu said. "Too far for grenades."

"Then we'll have to push." Felix's expression was grim. "We're going to lose people."

"Getting the data out is our priority, sir."

"Doesn't mean I have to like it."

There was nothing more to be said. They didn't have time. Wu gestured to the team to be ready before he and Felix stepped out into the hall.

They started to run right away, ready to hit the deck when fire came so they could possibly lay suppressive fire for their allies. But no fire came their way. The sounds of gunfire came from ahead, louder than before, with shouts and screams. Felix and Wu continued on, the rest of the team behind them, until they arrived at the junction of the complex's main halls.

The security team that shot at them before was down, overwhelmed by numbers, given the dozens of orange-clad figures around. Those of them armed brought their weapons up, but before any shots could be fired, Piper and Miri rushed out to stand between the two groups. They were stripped of their Rigault uniform jackets, showing the plain white long-sleeved undershirt and tactical armor beneath. "They're friendlies!" Miri shouted.

A call in Hestian sounded. Their weapons were lowered, some rather slowly. Felix could see there were still trust issues here.

"Good going, Miri," Felix remarked, seeing the crowd. "Freed all the prisoners, huh?"

"Seemed the best way to give you and Captain Henry a distraction," Piper answered. "So where to next?"

"That depends on Jim," Felix said, reaching for his link.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The call came into Antoine's office just as he was preparing to leave for an HBC meeting. He listened to the report with growing fury. "What do you mean there was an attack during the drill?"

"We're not sure of the details yet, Director," the nervous voice reported from the other end. "Just that we have reports of gunfire and that the prisoners are loose."

"Then stop them," Antoine said, his voice a low hiss from his barely-restrained rage. "And make sure the labs are secure! If our high priority subjects get away, I will personally have you charged under Hestian penal law, is that clear?!"

"As crystal, Director," replied the officer, undoubtedly already imagining being sentenced to penal labor in the mines. He hung up.

Antoine pounded a fist on his desk and went to the window. The complex was in the far distance. From here, everything looked normal. But today, today is not normal. Someone acted against my plans. And they will regret it!

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Henry's eyes met Aristide's. For all her composure never changed, the way the flesh tightened around them told him she remembered him, and there would be no bluffing here.

"Shoot him!" Aristide ordered even as Henry stepped back into the morgue.

He forced the door closed and backed away from it. "Wrong way," he said. "Aristide's here. We'd better find another route."

"This way," Tia urged, indicating the way they came. "I know another way back to the cells."

There was no point in arguing the matter. Henry followed Brigitte, who kept Tia going as they fled the morgue. Behind them, the door opened, and Aristide's forces came through. Henry squeezed a shot off that forced them down. He reached for his belt, hidden under his uniform jacket, and tossed a smoke grenade provided as part of the team kit. Gray vapors issued from the device and swiftly filled the morgue.

They came out the other way and Tia urged them further down the corridor, away from the room they'd found her in. Despite her clear exhaustion, she seemed to find the energy to actually pull free of Brigitte a little, moving to step ahead of her.

Henry turned back just in time. A Leaguer moved through the smoke billowing from the morgue. He raised his rifle and shot the man, catching him in the side just below the heart. The Leaguer toppled.

By the time the second one was coming through, they reached the next corridor. Tia led them into a turn. Henry's sense of direction indicated they were heading back toward the corridor where the implantation room was. He kept a steady pace, working with Brigitte to keep the rear clear as they pressed forward.

Their next encounter was with a pair of Rigault guards. Henry was ready to try and bluff past them, but Brigitte didn't give him a chance. She opened fire with the rifle, taking both down before they could react. "Aristide's probably warned the whole complex," Tia said. She eyed the rifle but didn't take it. "I can't risk them taking control of me."

Henry nodded. "I'd have destroyed the controls, but there might have been a failsafe. It could have left you unable to move."

"It was a smart call. I'll just feel better when this damn chip is off my neck."

At the next intersection, Tia led them into another turn. They continued on with no interruption. "Miri's jail break must be occupying most of the security forces," Henry mused. They passed a corridor interchange. Henry checked both sides of the corridor. "And these rooms look familiar."

"We're almost there," Tia assured him.

Henry's link let out an electronic tone. He tapped it. "We're on our way," he said.

"Good, we're moving for the exit as well," Felix answered. "Miri, Piper, and at least three dozen Hestians are with us."

"We'll have room for them on the Shadow Wolf," Henry assured him. "We'll be there shortly." Henry toggled the link. "Henry to Shadow Wolf, status?"

"We are launching now, Captain," Yanik answered.

"We're going to have extra guests and may need some fire support."

"We will be ready. Shadow Wolf out."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

On the Shadow Wolf bridge, Yanik sat in the command chair, while Cera, as expected, manned the helm. Vidia took Piper's astrogation and sensor station. "Captain Chagger's people are ready," he said. "They're on the quads."

"Inform the Majha to release us," Yanik said.

"Doing so now."

Several seconds passed with no result showing on the bridge's main display. The layer of liquid crystal that covered the front wall of the bridge showed only the interior of the Majha cargo pod.

Then the pod seemed to split open. The view was dominated by Hestia. Cera triggered the Wolf's plasma drives and sent them burning toward the planet below.

Yanik had comm controls relayed to his chair. At first, there was nothing, but as the planet consumed the space of the viewer, a light indicated an incoming call. He snorted at its origin, noting it was planetary traffic control. There was no point in answering, so he ignored it.

"No sign of defensive fire yet," Vidia said.

"Keep a firm watch." Yanik's yellow eyes focused on the holotank before him. No new contacts yet showed, simply these ships already in orbit, including the Majha, which even now was breaking away for the lunar L5 point.

With a stroke of his taloned finger, Yanik activated his link to Henry. "Captain, we are beginning atmospheric descent. We will arrive within ten minutes."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Yanik's call came just before Aristide and her remaining officer caught up to Henry and the others. A shot from a League ballistic pistol sent a slug a couple centimeters from Henry's shoulder and head. Knowing he might not evade another shot, he finished making the turn while Brigitte tossed her smoke grenade at the intersection.

Ahead of them, Tia was clearly running out of energy. Sheer determination seemed the only reason she hadn't collapsed. "This way!" she urged.

They followed, the Leaguers hot on their heels, through the corridors of the complex leading back to its central hall. A number of offices and rooms passed by that offered momentary cover whenever their pursuers managed to catch up. Henry and Brigitte kept up their suppressive fire, alternating between who was facing behind and who was running ahead with Tia.

Henry used another doorway for cover while letting Brigitte go past. He fired several shots to keep the Leaguers penned in behind them. "You will not escape, Captain Henry!" Aristide called out from her cover. "Surrender and I might be able to arrange mercy for your crew!"

"Your idea of mercy is as empty as your heart!" he retorted. "That device you put in my First Mate's neck proves it!"

"That device is the future," Aristide said. "In time, all will bear it, and with it, there will be more dissension or strife, no more violence. No more war."

"No more freedom. No more choice." Henry started to slip from the doorway and was driven back into cover by gunfire.

Along with her gunfire, Aristide gave an answer to his words. "Choice is an illusion; it always has been. Society is the only hope for the future of our species. All other ways lead to destruction."

"Only because you won't leave us alone!" With fire coming from Brigitte, Henry dashed out of cover. Despite the cover fire, he heard Aristide's gun crack again. This time, he felt hot pain across the back of his neck, followed by a sticky wet feeling against his skin. He'd taken a glancing shot there.

"I will kill you all if I must," Aristide vowed. "Society must prevail, or we are all lost. There is no alternative."

"Just shut up already, you League wanker!" Brigitte screamed. Her gun barked away, scorching the walls near where Aristide was in cover.

"Brigitte Tam'si. Your record makes for fascinating reading. Rarely does individualism come so strongly from someone raised in the warm folds of Society." Aristide's voice lost none of its cool. "I suppose it comes from Kallista Tam'si. Your aunt, I believe?"

Henry saw the fury on Brigitte's face as he approached. He shook his head and motioned for her to continue onward. She nodded and did so while he laid cover fire.

Over the shots, Aristide's voice called out again. "I read the records on Kallista. Noted individualist tendencies. It's why she was denied resettlement to New Hope, you know. New Hope was for the Socially conscious like your parents. How you have failed them all."

Brigitte and Tia made it to a set of large double doors. The central hall was straight beyond them.

Henry fired off several shots as he fell back to the door. Aristide's subordinate risked his fire to try and get a hit on him, but Brigitte added her rifle to the fight. Both scored hits on the man, including a shot to the throat that Henry was certain would prove fatal.

Aristide took several shots at them but didn't join her subordinate's reckless charge.

When Henry arrived at the door, he slipped through. Brigitte pulled her plasma pistol and used it to blast the latch, melting it into place to block the door from being opened. They looked up at it in time to see Aristide come up to the other side. Henry locked eyes with her through the door's one window pane. Her frustration and cold fury was spine-tingling in its intensity. "You cannot run forever, James Henry," she shouted through the door. "You will be brought to account eventually!"

"We all will, Commander," he replied loudly, to make sure she heard him through the door. "Especially you."

They left her behind. Now that Henry could see familiar landmarks, he took the lead. They took the last few corridors toward the central hall at a steady clip.

They arrived near the main entrance the teams entered through. The doors were already open and Felix's team were in defensive positions. They nodded as Henry led Tia through the door.

Stepping out into the Hestian sunlight required the last erg of her strength. Once she was out the door, Tia fell to her knees, utterly spent.

Henry and Brigitte helped her up. He looked out at the lot to see a crowd of figures in the same orange jumpsuit as Tia. Even more were already dashing past the gate, now deprived of its security officer.

Miri and Piper grinned at their arrival. Felix satisfied himself with a smile and a nod. But the real surprise was in the response of the crowd of freed prisoners. A young man from their number raised a fist and cheered. He began chanting "Tia!" and, with applause and further cheers, the crowd joined in.

The cheering seemed to give Tia a boost. It was only a small one, but it was enough that she straightened her spine while letting Henry and Brigitte hold her up. She brought an arm up into a clenched fist, getting a louder roar from the crowd.

Now Felix frowned. "Take positions!" he barked. "They're going to be on us soon!"

The crowd didn't immediately respond. Tia's fist became a flat palm. "Listen to him, comrades! He's right! We must be ready to fight!"

"And we will! We will protect you!" the young man vowed.

"Looks like you've got a fan," Brigitte remarked with a smile.

Tia smiled back weakly. "He's Quan Khánh. Linh's younger cousin."

Brigitte laughed. "Small galaxy, then."

The conversation came to a swift end with the roar of gunfire from inside the doors. "Hostile contacts!" shouted one of Wu's people from their position inside. Henry let Brigitte pull Tia away so he could turn and raise his rifle. Troopers in Rigault uniforms and in the basic camo of League security troops were emerging into the main hall to rush the exit. Henry got to cover beside the door to help provide fire to cover that side.

The others scrambled for cover behind the vehicles in the lot, and for good reason. The whine of aircar engines announced the arrival of Thyssenbourg's police forces. They formed a barricade just inside the gate with their vehicles, disembarking with rifles and shotguns. They opened fire as the last of the Hestians took cover, claiming hits on two.

Wu and the members of his team not holding the entrance door—and not counting a casualty Henry noticed being tended to in cover—returned fire where able, joined by Miri and Piper. Felix squeezed off several shots into the door before joining Henry. "We won't last long in this situation," he said. "Where's our evac?"

"Burning in now," Henry replied. "We just need to hold out for a few more minutes."

That was easily said, not so easily done. The rescue party and the rescued were pressed on both sides. Henry checked on the others as much as he could. Brigitte and Quan seemed to have taken personal responsibility for Tia's well-being as they kept behind one of the vehicles in the lot, popping up to take shots at the gate area.

The police weren't moving forward yet. Henry returned his attention to the gunfight inside the entrance while pondering the matter. He squeezed off a couple shots and checked the magazine, noting how low it was getting. Soon it would be time to switch to the CP-2520, if they had that long.

A low roar overhead hinted that they wouldn't. Henry looked up to see a pair of heavy helicars move into position, bearing the shield sigil of the Hestian Security Forces on their livery. The doors opened and power-armored figures appeared. They jumped from the vehicles and hit the ground, where fire converged on them to no effect. They lifted their rifles and commenced firing. Henry heard a scream and watched Wu's second in command go down to a heavy rifle shot.

Any time now, Yanik.

Henry noted one of the armored figures bringing his rifle over across the doors. He lunged across the open gap and caught Felix with his weight, knocking him over. The armored soldier's shots blew holes in the door frame above their head.

The power-armored soldier's rifle shifted. He brought it to bear on them. Henry tried to return fire, but his weapon failed to penetrate the armored skin of his foe.

The auto-turrets on the Shadow Wolf were a different story.

His ship descended out of nowhere, its auto-turrets and quad turrets blazing as it came down. The quads caught the HSF cargo helicars in mid-air and blasted each one to pieces. The auto-turrets focused on the power armor-clad HSF troopers to their detriment. The landing legs of the Shadow Wolf lowered until they hit the ground, the weight of the ship crushing three of the police cars in the process.

Henry's link crackled. "Ye'd better get movin', Captain," Cera warned. "Looks like they might be scramblin' fighters."

"Open the holds facing us," he ordered, and for good reason. The ramps themselves provided some cover from the police still in the street. Even before they were in contact with the ground, people rushed forward for them.

"Time to extract! All units fall back!" Felix shouted.

The defenders inside the building doors heeded the call. They fell back, guns blazing, with Henry and Felix providing fire support as they came. They shuffled backward down the stairs to the ground level as the first security troops tried to rush the doors. One of the Shadow Wolf's quad turrets inflicted the ultimate price for that attempt.

Piper and Miri were the first to the ramps, where they helped wounded Hestians aboard. Quan and Brigitte brought Tia up to the middle starboard hold's ramp, where Henry and Felix met them while falling back under the turrets' heavy fire. The Rigault security personnel inside the complex were staying in the doors given the grisly fates of the more adventurous of their number. "To the bridge!" Henry called to Piper and Miri, who nodded as they fell in with him.

Even before the ramps finished retracting and the airlock doors finished closing, the Shadow Wolf lifted off its legs and ascended skyward.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Antoine could only watch as the rugged-looking cargo ship ascended from near the HSF Justice Complex. The launching engines angled the ship's bow skyward and the four engines on the back brightened, accelerating the vessel towards orbit. He had no word yet on Tia Nguyen's status, but given the vessel's markings made it clear she was the Shadow Wolf, he had little doubt his prisoner was aboard.

He grabbed his link and brought it to his face. "Director Rigault here. Planetary Security, what is your status?"

On the other end, a woman's voice spoke up. "The 8th and 23rd Attack Squadrons are readying for launch now, Director. Estimate complete launch of both squadrons in five minutes."

"Target the Shadow Wolf before she can get to the L5 jump point," he ordered. "Blow her and her crew to atoms!"


Henry got to the bridge of the Shadow Wolf in a rush, still clad in his Rigault uniform. "Status?" he asked.

"We are now leaving the atmosphere," Yanik said. He stood from the command chair. "Sensors show defense fighters ascending from the planet's surface."

Henry reclaimed his seat. Piper took hers from Vidia while Miri slipped into the auxiliary station they used for independent gunnery control. Yanik waited a few moments before taking the First Mate's station. "Is Tia all right?"

"She's alive, but Oskar needs to see to her along with other wounded," Henry replied. His eyes focused on the traffic monitoring holotank showing the incoming contacts. One set was coming up from the planet and another from one of Hestia's orbiting stations. "Cera, prepare for evasives. Let's deal with these fighters. What are we looking at?"

"I'm running it through the recognition database." After a moment, Piper called out, "Missiles fired!"

"Auto-turrets engaging," Miri said.

The fighter-launched missiles coming in were medium-size models, meant for vessels of the Shadow Wolf's size. Under Cera's control, the ship slipped around in four directions, never leaving her course to the L5 point but still providing a shifting target for the incoming missiles. The turrets blazed away on both sides, tearing apart the missiles on direct hits with their magnetically-propelled rounds.

There was a shudder through the ship. "Hit on stern quarter deflectors," Yanik rumbled. "Deflectors reduced but holding."

"The fighters coming from the surface are coming up." Piper examined one of her screens. "Recognition systems identify them as Fubuki Aerospace Hayabusa models."

Henry recognized the model. They were relatively-capable tactical aerospace fighters, at least in Neutral Space, although they lagged about a decade behind the CDF's newest generation technology. Fubuki Aerospace produced them on both contract and speculation basis for sale to governments and private organizations.

"That model can carry torpedoes," Miri pointed out. "And they've got pulse cannon armament."

"The space-based ones likely have the torps."

"Ground-based fighters coming up!"

The Hayabusa fighters attempted to flank the Shadow Wolf on all sides. Cera responded by rotating the ship, allowing the manned quad turrets easier firing fields. Miri activated the ship's plasma cannons to join the fight. The karnon-pumped plasma sent spears of purple energy toward the opposing craft, forcing them to break off attack runs to dodge.

The Hestian Security Forces' pilots maintained their poise in attacking. Bolts of pale blue light battered away at the Shadow Wolf deflectors at all sides, even as the gunners borrowed from the Majha crew scored one kill, then another. "They're stickin' like a bad port call date, Captain," Cera said. "I'll have t' freely maneuver t' evade."

"Second wave fighters are arming torpedoes," Piper warned.

Henry didn't want to risk a spread of torpedoes; the Shadow Wolf's deflectors wouldn't be up to that. Even not counting torpedoes, a running engagement all the way to the L5 point was not what he had in mind. "I've got something else in mind. Cera, bring the fusion drive online." As he expected, that won him uncertain glances from the others, save for Yanik, who provided a pragmatic nod of the head. "We won't win a running fight all the way out. The Hayabusa's tough, but we can out-accelerate them with the drives, and they're not system-wide craft."

"Right. Triggerin' th' drives, sir."

Henry tapped the intercom key on his chair. "All passengers and hands, brace for high-G burn."

With her helm controls, Cera triggered the ship's rigged fusion drive. She started with a burst of increased acceleration, which did its job all too well. The enemy fighters found that their shots were hitting empty void as the Wolf's speed spiked under the increased thrust. The same sudden shift in their delta-v threw off the firing calculations and intercept courses of the space-based fighters, forcing them to adjust and burn more fuel in an attempt to make the intercept.

The crew felt the weight of G-forces push them into their own chairs. It would be worse for the rescued Hestians in the holds, already weak and pressed toward the ship's stern. Cera, keeping the Shadow Wolf's strained structure in mind, dialed the thrust up and down, trying to minimize the strain while maintaining some of the superior thrust.

The holotank told Henry his call was working. The fighters' interception chances were declining rapidly. The trade-off of their design, combat power for range, was now in the Shadow Wolf's favor.

A telltale vibration filled the decks beneath their feet. Knowing what it meant, he ordered, "Cut fusion drives, max burn on the GXR-4500s".

"Aye, sir," Cera answered. She killed the power to the fusion drives. The vibration went away, as did the G-forces pressing against them. "We're at max burn now."

A check of the holotank confirmed his calculations. The fighters were already starting to back off their pursuits. Even with the plasma drives' lesser thrust, the speed picked up during the fusion drive burn made interception on their fuel capacity unlikely.

Now that the immediate danger was out of the way, Henry checked on their compatriots. The Majha was already burning for the L5 point, giving them a slight head start. The differences in their engines and mass meant the Wolf might overtake them just as they neared the L5 point's jump zone.

"Looks like we're home free," Piper said. "I'm not seeing any other ships that can intercept us before we hit the L5."

"What about those cutters we saw while burning in?"

She shook her head. "They're out of position, mostly. One or two might just manage to catch up in time, if they give up on their targets, but I doubt those things have our firepower."

"Still, keep a close eye on scopes." He glanced at the holotank, which confirmed Piper's argument. "The League's here, and that might include ships."

"You actually run into th' sassenach Leaguers down there?"

"Did. Brig and I shot a few, though not Aristide."

"What is their role here?" Yanik asked.

Henry shook his head. "Taking their control freak tendencies to the ultimate extreme." As he spoke, he wondered how Oskar was doing with Tia. I'll have to ask once we're out of the system.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Now that the high-G burn was over, Oskar got back to work. The trained corpsman on Felix's team had Lieutenant Woods' injury well in hand, but there were several Hestians who were wounded to various extents. With the help of Brigitte and Vidia, as well as the other Hestians, Oskar quickly saw to first aid.

That Tia was untreated so far was by her own choice. She was exhausted and wound up from having the puppeting implant still in her neck, but she didn't have actual wounds from gunfire. Her people with those injuries came first. She waited patiently at the infirmary threshold while Quan organized the line of injured Hestians for Oskar to treat.

After a couple of hours, Oskar had all of the worst cases dealt with. Brigitte brought her in, and she took to the one empty bed available. Oskar approached with a scanning device. "You're exhausted physiologically," he noted, "but I'm not reading new injuries. Just new scar tissue at…" His voice stopped. Tia glanced his way and saw Oskar's face pale into a sheet-white tone.

Brigitte filled the silence. "That doctor from the camp was there, Oskar. Breivik."

Pain shot through Oskar's face. He nearly fell backwards into his nearby chair, where for a moment, he buried his face in his hands. A deep, mournful groan came from his throat.

"Oskar, you knew that Leaguer?" Tia asked.

He nodded wordlessly. "He was a colleague and friend back in my days assigned to the Social Defense Militia. One of the few personnel I enjoyed working with." He shook his head. "It's all in the past, a pain I'd rather not speak of. Your situation deserves my focus, not Jan."

"You can remove this thing, then?" Tia asked. "Because I want it out. I'm no one's damn puppet!"

He nodded. "It will have to wait until the ship is safe, but I can remove the implant in your neck."

Brigitte was the one to ask, "Because he made it?"

"No," Oskar replied. "Because I made it."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After a couple hours of burning with their plasma drives, the Shadow Wolf and the Majha were finally near to the jump limit. Felix stepped through the bridge door and took a look around, as if reminding himself of something he'd lost. Aloud, he said, "Oskar's got the worst cases taken care of, and Lieutenant Tashi's tended to the little stuff."

"Good. What about that data?" Henry glanced his way. "Did your people get what you needed?"

"Sanchez and Wu just started analyzing," Felix answered. "I'll get back to them soon to help. Right now, though, it's too early to tell. We had to cut free before we fully searched the database."

"Well, I can tell you one thing you might find." Henry let through the frown he'd been feeling since seeing the "motor testing lab." "I think I know a major reason the League's here. It's their experiment, the one they used on Tia."

"Some kind of implant, right?"

"Yeah. A mind control device or something. It lets them control your body remotely."

Felix's face betrayed his bewilderment. "What? Like, they can make you feel something?"

"They can control your muscles, making you walk and pick up and carry things without wanting to," he recounted. "They can silence you or trigger your brain to feel pain whenever they like."

For a moment, it was clear Felix and the others on the bridge were not sure how to react to what he said. It seemed impossible. A mad scientist's lark, not something that existed.

"They… they really did it?" Felix blinked. "Just… like that?" He snapped his fingers. "They can control people?"

"Like puppets."

Felix paled. Everyone present did. "Even that won't be enough," Miri remarked. "They'll want to control thoughts too. Anti-Social thoughts are just as important to suppress."

"Christ in Heaven." Felix shook his head and balled a fist. "They did that to Tia?"

"Other folks too." A wave of guilt crashed through Henry at the prisoner he'd escorted to the surgical theater as part of his cover. I couldn't save him then, he insisted to himself. I couldn't.

A second thought replied. You could've, but it might've cost you Tia. That's the truth, and that fellow, he's going to take her place. All because you didn't go back for him.

"We've got to get this to Ostrovsky. To the Coalition." Felix looked as sick as Henry felt, if for different reasons. "This changes… it changes so much. The stuff they could do with this technology, it's monstrous."

"Enslave entire worlds, entire peoples," Yanik rumbled. "Make all resistance impossible."

"We'd just be drones, puppets to the bastards." Felix shook his head. "But why Hestia? Why didn't they develop this back in the Orion Arm?"

"Well, until a couple months ago, the Coalition was blowing things up in the Arm," Henry pointed out. "Including labs. Hestia's safer. Plus, the locals want to use the tech too from what I've seen."

"Even Fuentes will have to act. Rhodes might be a self-righteous twit who won't bend, but—"

"Wormhole forming!" Piper called out, interrupting Felix in mid-sentence.

Henry's attention went to the viewer. Just ahead of them, a wormhole blossomed open. No. No, let it be a merchant ship, let it be something other than—

—a League of Sol destroyer.

The Cobra-class vessel accelerated through the wormhole ready for action. Her plasma cannons centered ahead. She kept her speed up.

A voice crackled over the open ship comm line. "To both vessels fleeing Hestia with prisoners, cut your engines now and prepare for boarding. If you do not surrender, you will be destroyed."


An oppressive silence came over the Shadow Wolf bridge at the sight of the Cobra-class vessel on the screen. The League destroyer exuded menace as its plasma cannons swiveled to face their ship. It had the capability to blew them to atoms, and most likely would.

"Captain Henry." Kaiya's voice was deceptively calm. Henry was certain she felt much like he did, since the Majha, despite her size, was not a match for the Cobra either. "The intelligence we gathered must get back to the Coalition. One of our ships must get to the jump zone."

"Yeah." He swallowed. They'd just overtaken the Majha, so the Shadow Wolf would face the destroyer first.

"You have thirty seconds to comply or we will open fire," the League captain said, his voice crackling over another comm line for their benefit.

Henry made the calculation. The Majha could engage the destroyer briefly, but she had no heavy anti-ship weapons of note. The Sikh ship might be a clandestine CDF Intel vessel, but her cover demanded she pass as a normal cargo carrier. Her weapons were only truly fit for enemy fighters or, at most, pirates with armed civilian vessels.

On the other hand, the Shadow Wolf had her neutron cannon. It was already proven against League destroyers.

But for that, and for the thrust to survive, we need the fusion drive. Every minute of the fight, the Wolf will die a little more. Henry drew in a breath before answering Kaiya. "Burn for the zone, Captain, we'll try to buy you time."

"Godspeed, Captain Henry."

"Firin' th' fusion drive up," said Cera, saving him the need to give the order. "I'll try t' keep from flyin' her apart."

"A direct hit will break us up as fast as the structure failing," Piper pointed out sullenly. The fear on her face was real.

Miri manned the auxiliary station. "I'll fire the neutron cannon when we have a good shot."

"Make it a close one," Henry said. He keyed the intercom. "Brace for high-G combat acceleration, everyone."

By then, Cera already had the fusion drive going again. The Shadow Wolf accelerated toward the League destroyer, weaving with lateral thrusters as she did to provide the League gunners a tougher target. Plasma cannon fire lashed out at them. The streaks of lethal red energy missed repeatedly with a few exceptions. Those exceptions showed on Yanik's boards. "Deflectors are degraded but holding."

It was good news that wouldn't, really couldn't, last. "They're firing missiles!" Piper called out.


Cera made good her reply, weaving the Shadow Wolf around the incoming fire. The missiles proved particularly difficult. Henry noted their maneuvers with trepidation: the League clearly had advanced even further in missile armament, with these missiles having maneuverability and tracking closer to more advanced Coalition models. The weapons pursued doggedly, refusing to be spoofed or thrown off by Cera's maneuvering.

To make matters worse, the vibration was returning in full force, as the tremendous power of the ship's rigged fusion drives subjected the Shadow Wolf's structure to forces beyond her designed endurance. The entire crew was being subjected to over two Gs of force now as the inertial compensators failed to keep up with the power of the drives.

"Damage to the ship's structure is increasing across all sections," Yanik warned.

That information was important, but Henry's attention was on the missiles. The first volley was making their terminal approach. The Shadow Wolf's auto-turrets tracked and engaged, sending slivers of metal into the incoming weapons. Missile after missile disappeared from the holotank as the defensive fire eliminated them.

The League destroyer had plenty more, though, and already a second salvo of missiles was incoming, joined by yet more plasma cannon fire.

Henry checked the location of the Majha. She was still at least ten minutes from the L5 jump zone, and half a day from the Hestia system's main limit. At this rate, we'll fly apart before she can get away, much less before we can break off. We need to end this fight now.

There was only one way to do that.

"Cera, bring us in, close range," he ordered. "Miri, prepare the cannon."

"Takin' us in, Captain," Cera answered. Miri gave a shorter "Yes sir" as her reply.

It was their best shot, but it was a gamble. The closer range would make the League gunners' job easier, as it reduced the probabilities involved in anticipating their movements. The missiles would be under less overall fire from the auto-turrets. It would be easier for the League ship to land hits.

And it did, as Cera's best efforts couldn't keep a number of plasma shots from partial hits on their deflectors. She cranked the fusion drive up to match, trying to gain greater speed and acceleration to throw off the League's aim. The ominous vibration intensified. Soon the shriek of tearing metal would come back.

For a brief moment, Henry regretted letting the Majha break off. Why should his crew be the ones to risk their lives for this? Why couldn't Captain Chagger be doing this? She and her crew signed up for this. His crew signed up to be cargo runners, not soldiers. This shouldn't be our job!

But the decision was made, and all he could do was see it to the end.

"Shot comin' up, Miri!" Cera cried out over the growing vibration and the intensifying G-forces. "Give me ten more seconds!" On the main bridge monitor, the Cobra-class warship loomed ever larger. The closed fist in a sunburst insignia showed openly on the League ship's hull.

"I'm ready!"

The League ship's fire intensified. Several plasma shots struck the deflectors of the Shadow Wolf, draining them steadily, while their ship's own drives continued to strain her metal bones to the point of tearing. One missile nearly impacted, just to be shot by one of the quad turrets at the last moment, showering the strained deflectors with energy from the blast.

Henry noted the status of the ship and swallowed. This run would succeed, or they would be destroyed one way or the other.


With that announcement, Miri triggered the Shadow Wolf's neutron cannon. The cruiser-grade weapon was mounted on the ship's belly, in a covered trunk between the starboard and port holds. In the moments before she triggered the shot, the covering plates for the cannon's barrel moved away. Now unmasked, the cannon fired. A beam of pale blue energy lanced across the void and sliced into the League destroyer. Because of the power behind the shot, its relative intensity, and its cross-section, it overwhelmed the deflectors on the League destroyer at the point of impact. The beam sliced through the armored hull into the Cobra’s vitals. Flame blossomed violently from the destroyer, leaving behind gaping wounds spewing atmosphere and debris into the empty void.

Miri wasn't done. Another beam lanced out, slightly weaker than the first. It still had the strength to pierce the deflectors of the League ship, this time playing over one of the missile cells. An explosion consumed the side of the vessel. Henry watched the damage and felt hope that they'd pull this off after all.

The third shot went off. This one, yet weaker, initially failed to penetrate the deflector, but the League ship's power loss allowed the beam through in the end, slicing through hull and armor. A plasma cannon emplacement facing them went silent.

The fourth and final shot lashed out. With Cera maneuvering to avoid an incoming missile, this shot nearly missed, ultimately striking along one of the main engines of the destroyer. The gutted plasma drive died, leaving the League ship lamed if still capable of some thrust.

"Neutron capacitors empty," Miri said. "We won't get another shot for a couple of minutes."

"Break us off," Henry said. They've lost power and weapons. We just have to get away!

"Breaking for th' L5 point."

Under Cera's command, the Shadow Wolf, battered as she was, turned away from the League ship. Under the power of the fusion drive, she was dying by centimeters, but Cera dared not cut the fusion drives until they had enough speed and distance from the League ship.

The vibrations still filled the ship, and Henry could hear the shrieking becoming louder and louder. The fractures were growing. The structural members of the ship were tearing. His ship, Uncle Charlie's ship, was dying.

Just hold together, girl. Hold together until we can jump!

"Majha's almost to the L5 point, she'll be jumping in five minutes." Piper's report was unnecessary, but he let her give it without comment. It was something for her to do, given the tension they all felt. "Heat plume from the destroyer. They're firing missiles!"

"I'm evadin'!"

Missiles again flew from the League destroyer, stricken as she was. They turned within a second of launching, skimming across the surface of the League ship to chase the Shadow Wolf. Henry watched them approach on the holotank while Cera maintained evasives. The shrieking and vibrating of the deck intensified.

"Structural failure imminent on port quad turret," Yanik warned.

"Clear the turret!" It was all he could do.

Seconds passed. The lead missiles screamed in to meet the auto-turrets' fire. They corkscrewed around the ship, guided by their targeting systems in trying to get a clean hit outside of the turrets' firing zones. Cera kept the Wolf spinning and weaving to always present defensive fire. Streams of projectiles met the approaching missiles, destroying them whenever their paths crossed.

There was a lurch in the ship. "Port turret is lost," Yanik said.

Before Henry could ask about the Majha crewer manning the weapon, a second, stronger shake filled the ship. The red lights on Yanik's board grew. "What was that?"

"The quad turret collided with the aft port auto-turret as it came free," Miri said. "The auto-turret has been torn away."

Henry's heart skipped a beat. A lost auto-turret meant a loss in anti-missile coverage. And with the rest of those missiles homing in…

He didn't have time to suggest anything. He could only watch on the holotank as one of the missiles seized its opening. It came at the new weak point in the Shadow Wolf's defenses. The other port auto-turrets couldn't track that far to stern and Cera was occupied keeping another missile from crashing into their starboard side.

The missile struck home.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The blast was the worst Samina had ever known in her years on the Shadow Wolf. There was a great shaking that crescendoed over the vibrations and shrieking of the Shadow Wolf's failing structure. The roof of the upper engineering deck fractured, and a low, vicious whistle filled the chamber, the whistle every spacer dreaded: atmosphere was being lost to the vacuum of space.

But Samina had other concerns. The stress caused by the blast broke free some of the coolant and fuel piping for the ship's fusion cores. The same wound drawing their air saved the ship from the lethal coolant and fuel, at least, but the piping was another matter. The wounds in the ship's hull weren't large enough for the atmospheric decompression to overpower the Shadow Wolf's artificial gravity systems.

So instead of being sucked into space, the thick pipe that normally transferred helium-3 into Reactor Core 2 instead fell backward onto her, pushing her into the stern wall and trapping her against it. Only the shell of her engineering hardsuit protected her from getting her ribs broken. She struggled to push the piping away, but the G-forces were too great, the mass too much.

Sparking came from ahead. Despite her intense discomfort, Samina could see that the blast also caused stress damage to the jump drive's housing. Pieter, who'd been braced forward of her location to watch the drive, struggled in his softsuit to lower into the drive core. "Samina! The drive's down! I'll need to inspect the damage!"

"Help!" she called out. "I'm stuck!"

Pieter navigated the mess of piping around Core 2 and approached her. "Samina!" With the G-forces pressing him toward the stern anyway, it wasn't hard for him to reach her.

"I can't slip free!"

Pieter grappled with the piping, trying to pull it loose, but it wouldn't budge. He pulled out his link and keyed it for the ship's intercom system. "Pieter to anyone, I need help!"

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After the shaking ceased, Henry felt a deep sickness in his gut. Yanik quickly justified it. "Direct hit to stern quarter. Damage in main engineering. Reactor Core 2 has shut down. The jump drive is signaling critical damage."

That was that. No jump drive meant no escape, and the loss of a third of the ship's main power supply would undermine the inertial compensators. And that didn't count the structural damage from the strike and how the wound would worsen their situation with the fusion drive. They would either fly apart under the fusion drive's power or the League ship would pummel them to death with missiles.

For that same reason, the Majha couldn't come back. It would be under fire too, and the League missiles would only need one lucky shot.

"The League ship's stopped firing. They're burning towards us." Piper's voice quaked with fear. "Given the speed we've built up and their shift in delta-v, they'll be in range to grapple us in about six or seven minutes."

We can't get away. We either die here or they catch us. And if they catch us… If they were caught, Henry knew, all of them would likely end up with those implants in their necks, just like Tia.

A desperate idea came to mind, one way they could get free. "Shadow Wolf to Majha. Captain Chagger, standby on jump."

"Captain, I'm sorry, but I can't," she replied. "My ship can't fight that destroyer, even as damaged as it is."

"You won't need to. Just be ready to pick up our survivors."

There was a brief silence before she spoke again. "...I'll give you all the time I can, but if their missiles threaten my ship, we're jumping. The data is too important."

"I understand."

"Captain?" Yanik's yellow eyes focused on Henry.

Henry was about to answer when Pieter's voice came over the line. "Pieter to anyone, I need help! Samina is trapped and we've lost a reactor core!"

"Captain? What are you planning?" Yanik's voice took on a nervous tinge to the usual hiss in it.

"Yanik, see what you can do for Samina." As soon as he said those words, Yanik jumped from the seat and rushed for the door. Henry keyed the intercom system. "All of you, get to the holds, prepare to separate them from the ship," he said. "If you can't get to a hold, get to the nearest escape pod." He released the intercom button before continuing. "Cera, when I say, you're going to leave the helm to me and use manual astrogation as an escape pod."

"Captain, what're ye doin'?" she asked.

"The only thing I can do," he said. "I'm going to ram them."


Henry's announcement didn't surprise Yanik. It couldn't. Their situation was severe and, in the Captain's eyes, Yanik saw what he had planned. He will give his life to save ours.

In his own way, he envied Henry that end. It was a worthy one. Such a death is the best for any Krasshash. He will uphold his obligations and his soul will ascend to the embrace of the Divine. There is no greater way to die.

He had other concerns as it was. The further he got toward the rear, the more obvious the damage. When he arrived in Engineering, he could hear the whistle of air that revealed a hull breach. It was not a severe one or the crew would've been drawn out into space, but over time, it would cost the compartment its oxygen supply. Of greater concern was that it strengthened slightly in the seconds after his arrival. The breach was growing steadily, and might yet be powerful enough to draw anyone in Engineering out into the void.

The groaning and arguing led him to the rear of the section. Samina was trapped by a large chunk of reactor piping now wedged between coolant and fuel trunks. Pieter had a crowbar he was trying to use to pull the piping free while Linh was messing with a plasma torch. "We don't have time!" Pieter protested. "It'll take too long to cut through."

"Cutting through is our only option!" Linh's voice betrayed panic.

"You have to leave!" Samina's voice was desperate. "You can't get this off!"

"I'm not leaving you to die, fetcher," Linh swore.

After looking it over, Yanik drew in a breath to steel himself. He knew how to approach such things, but the best way ruled out his left arm and shoulder. Still, Samina's life was more important.

The others finally noticed him. "Yanik, please help," Linh pleaded.

"You need not ask." He stepped up to Samina and pressed himself in beside her, his right shoulder against the section of pipe wedged in. "Pull now," he ordered the others. They went to work with pry bars while he pushed his arm against the pipe with all of his strength.

His right shoulder protested with pain that quickly escalated to excruciating lengths. The repairs to the joint by Oskar weren't enough to deal with the strain. Every instinct demanded he abandon his efforts to prevent further damage. But to abandon them would be to abandon Samira, and this he would not do.

The hiss his efforts drew became a roar as the pain in his shoulder refused to relent. Neither, it seemed, would the pipe. Yanik felt like his arm would tear off first.

There was a loud shriek of protesting metal. Centimeter by centimeter, the pipe started to give way. Yanik felt it giving and put everything he had into moving the pipe further.

When it gave, it gave suddenly and violently. Pieter fell back into the wall and Linh hit the floor. The pipe itself, dislodged, flew forward until it slammed into the afflicted reactor and came to a stop.

Samina stumbled forward. Yanik saw the tears of gratitude through her hardsuit's faceplate. No words had to be spoken, nor was there time to. Not with the ship lurching back into motion.

The whistling grew louder. The hull breach was expanding again.

"The escape pods, we must reach them," Yanik reminded them, trying to ignore the throbbing pain consuming his right arm and shoulder.

"Right." Pieter's voice trembled. "This way."

They made their way to the exit. Yanik noted the pained glances Pieter and Samina gave toward their workspace of so many years before they departed with him. We will all feel this loss.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

A sea of panicked faces greeted Tia when she arrived in the middle holds with Oskar and Brigitte. Her fellow liberated prisoners were crying out, asking to know what was going on, what to do.

She couldn't blame them. Despite her own years of experience as a spacer, this situation was unprecedented for her. That was terrifying in of itself. They need me to show them how to cope. The world is turning upside down.

"Will the holds keep their atmosphere?" asked Oskar.

"They're designed to, although each hold will be isolated from the others." Tia leaned over the catwalk and started shouting. "Everyone, find a secure arm hold, now! When the hold separates, you'll be rocked around, and we'll lose gravity!"

Her voice broke through the tumult. They went into motion, obeying her instructions.

Nothing else to do now but wait and see how this goes, she thought grimly. Good luck, Jim.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

At Henry's instruction, Miri and Piper departed the bridge for the forward holds. He remained with Felix and Cera. "With th' structural damage, ye won't have long before th' fusion drives tear th' ship apart," Cera warned. "Th' G-forces might knock ye out. Ye should let me—"

"No," Henry insisted, knowing what she was about to ask. "You two get down to manual astrogation. I'll separate you once the hatch is sealed."

"But, sir!"

"That's an order, Ms. McGinty." Henry's voice was firm.

Tears filled the younger woman's eyes. "Yes, sir," she finally said, standing from her beloved helm station. She took his hand. "I'll pray for yer soul."

"I'll probably need it. Go." Henry turned his head toward Felix. "You too, Felix."

"Jim, you don't have to do this."

"I'm the captain of this ship," he replied. "It's my responsibility."

"I'm the reason you're here!" Felix put his hands on Henry's arms to hold him back from the helm. "Jim, this is on me!"

"No it's not. I came to get Tia back; we got her back. This is how we get her, and your data, out of here." Henry met Felix's grip with his own. "Now get down there!"

"Dammit, Jim, this isn't about anything but a death wish!" Felix roared. "You still haven't forgiven yourself for the Laffey, so now you're going to go down with this ship when you don't need to!"

"Who else will go, then?!" Henry demanded. "Cera? You? Should I call one of the others up here to make the sacrifice?" He shook his head. "I gave everything I could to keep this crew safe. They've risked themselves for my sake too often as it is. I'm doing this, Felix, and that's final!"

Tears filled Felix's eyes. "You're asking me to watch you die, Jim. I can't do that. I already failed you before."

The pain in his old friend's voice cut into Henry. Not enough to shake his resolve, but it stung nevertheless. "I know, and I'm sorry, Felix." Say it, he demanded of himself. This is the end, say it! "But it's how it's got to be."

Felix shook his head. "No, it isn't."

Henry sighed and turned to Cera. "Cera, help me get him—"

There was a slight pinch against Henry's neck. He glanced down to see Felix's hand and, more importantly, the auto-injector it was holding. He barely had time to recognize it before he felt his legs go numb beneath him. He toppled into his chair. He managed to lift his head while his arms, after a moment, also stopped responding. "What did you do?" he asked.

Felix threw the empty auto-injector away. "What I had to," he said. He reached down and hoisted Henry from the chair. "Cera, help me out here."

Cera nodded. She stepped down through the hatch into manual astrogation and extended her arms.

None of Henry's limbs responded. Even his neck muscles wouldn't work now. He tried to speak but couldn't get his jaw to move. He could only stare at his best friend while Felix pulled him over and handed him down to Cera. The two worked him into manual astrogation, Cera descending the hatch ladder with him. Stop! Dammit, Felix, don't do this!

He wanted to speak those words, but he couldn't. His jaw, his tongue, his throat; none of it was working.

Felix looked down at them through the hatch. His hand came up in a salute. "It's been a pleasure and an honor, Cera McGinty."

Cera nodded back. Her eyes glistened with tears. "Th' same t' ye, Colonel Rothbard."

Felix nodded in acceptance. His eyes met Henry's. "I'm sorry about everything. I wish I could've been a better friend. Take care, Jim, and Godspeed."

Henry couldn't give a reply thanks to the paralytic, but he desperately wanted to. He wanted to yell at Felix for doing this, at taking on this sacrifice when he didn't need to and wasn't asked to.

Cera sat Henry down gently while, above them, Felix pulled the hatch door down. Cera sealed their end of it before taking the lone seat in the module. The window there showed the empty void that surrounded their doomed ship. "Ready for separation," she said into her link.

"Commencing separation," Felix answered.

The module jolted. Single-use thrusters pushed them free of the Shadow Wolf. The module turned slightly in space, enough to give them the view of their crippled ship. One by one, four of the holds along the bottom detached and floated free into space. Toward the mauled rear, an escape pod shot out from above the engines.

Henry tried to move again, but he couldn't. All he could do was watch as the engines lit up and the Shadow Wolf rocketed away to her doom, his best friend at the helm.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The helm control status screen confirmed the hold separations along with that of manual astrogation. Felix watched another light show an escape pod shoot away from the stern of the ship. With a couple of key taps, he brought up a holographic screen to his side showing the sensor returns for the ship. Everyone was accounted for; he was the only living soul remaining on the Shadow Wolf.

Instinctual fear filled his belly and tried to freeze his heart. It was the fear that said, simply, "I don't want to die." His body felt like it would start vibrating from all of his self-preservation impulses urging him to run to an escape pod now.

But he wouldn't. He couldn't. The data had to get back to Canaan, and his friend and former crew needed to get to safety. So he'd see to it.

It's better this way, Jim, I hope you realize that, he thought. After all these years of working in these dark places, at least I'll go out like a CDF officer should.

A couple of key taps brought up the controls for the fusion drive. The system lit up warnings on the screen that he ignored. His hand moved along the holographic dial for the fusion drive's output.

The ship lurched beneath him and a powerful force pressed him into the helm seat. Damage to the inertial compensators… and with the ship's mass lowered, a higher acceleration profile… this is gonna be tough. Felix fought to keep his arms forward and his hands on the flight controls.

Ahead of him, the League warship loomed. Even with her battle damage, she was formidable, and despite her limp, she'd catch the others before the Majha could rescue them. She had to be stopped.

"Rothbard to Majha," he said, his voice rough from the acceleration. "Pick 'em up. I'll clear the way for you."

The reply from Captain Chagger was short and bittersweet. "We're burning for them now. Godspeed, Colonel."

The League ship's surviving missile battery lit up. Another salvo was coming for the Shadow Wolf. The auto-turrets came active automatically, to Felix's benefit. It let him keep his attention, strained by G-forces as it was, on the controls and the approaching ship. He adjusted course to match the Leaguers' own changes.

You can shoot me down, but that's your only shot. I've got the acceleration to catch you, you Godless bastards.

The missiles screamed in, seeking to end his death ride prematurely. The five remaining auto-turrets on the Shadow Wolf filled the space ahead with metal rounds. The missiles started to explode, one by one.

He barely noticed. Nor was he paying much attention to the growing vibration and shriek of metal. The Shadow Wolf was coming apart under the power of her rigged drives. The G-forces were so intense, he could feel the darkness creeping in at the periphery of his vision. He would black out before long. No, I have to make it. God help me, I have to.

Beyond that plea, despite his situation, a peace settled on Felix, warming his heart, indeed his very soul. The weak, smoldering embers of the faith he'd grown up with roared to life once more.

It all seemed so clear now. So clear indeed. All of those years of compromised moral choices, of doing the dirty things so the heroes of the CDF would get their chance on the battlefield; it'd sapped away at that blaze. But now it couldn't. This was what he was meant for, and it was a fate he embraced. Despite all the sins of the past, despite the lies, God was giving him a chance to save his best friend and so many others he'd called comrade. The end of his mortal existence beckoned, but a greater, better existence lay beyond. An existence freed from the compromises and pain of this mortal life. No more darkness, no more shame.

Felix was raised to be a Christian. He'd embraced that faith as an adult, felt it slowly drain under the pressures of a war and all of the terrible things he'd done, and now… now here he was, faith reignited as he was about to perform the highest act a man of his faith could ever perform.

After all, to be a Christian was to be called to live a life like Christ's. How much closer to the Savior could one get than to sacrifice their own life for the salvation of others?

The League warship loomed ever larger. It was trying to adjust course now. Its wounded drives were at more than full, trying to throw off his aim.

It took everything Felix had remaining to keep his hands on the controls and the League ship on his bow. It grew to encompass the entire screen in those final seconds.

A voice crackled over the line. "Felix." Henry's voice was strained, barely audible over the shriek of the metal, the vibrations, and the way the G-forces interfered with his senses. "Felix, I forgive you. For everything."

Despite the pressure, a contented smile formed on Felix's face.


Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The words came from Henry's throat in deliberate, forced tones, requiring far more effort than usual, given the influence of the paralytic agent on his body.

The truth was, he wanted to say more. So much more. But it was too late.

A star came to life in the endless black of the void, intense but so very brief. Henry didn't need a viewer to know the star was the Shadow Wolf. At her velocity, she'd been crushed against the League warship at the moment of impact, an impact that released the contents of her fusion drive's reactor vessel to, for a brief moment, form a miniature star in the middle of the Hestian system. In its damaged state, there was no chance the League ship survived.

Only a moment, though. The deuterium and helium-3 fuel was exhausted after that moment and the star died, bringing back the darkness of the void.

A sniffle escaped Cera's throat. Over the link, he heard Pieter's voice crackle. "She's gone. Completely gone." He sounded utterly defeated.

"Majha to Shadow Wolf survivors." Kaiya's voice came through loud and clear. "The League vessel has been destroyed. Our scanners are clean. The nearest enemy vessel is still two hours out. We will have you aboard and be jumping out within the hour." There was a moment of silence on the other end. "You have my condolences for your loss."

She meant well, but her words were another stab in the heart for Henry. His ship, Uncle Charlie's ship, was gone, and his best friend was dead.

Hot tears welled in his eyes and blurred the world. A sob erupted from his throat, then another, until he broke down weeping.


Antoine arrived at the Justice and Rehabilitation Center in a barely-contained fury. He was greeted by a fleet of ambulances to carry away wounded police and security troops. Shrouded bodies spoke of the casualties taken to his troops in the attack. This is a disaster. We will have to crack down further on the Hestians to keep them cowed.

It wasn't the Hestians that truly concerned him, of course. They were utterly wretched. It was his own people that posed the greater threat, and his allies the greatest threat.

He found Aristide in her office. In her own way, she was smoldering just as he was. The labs were her responsibility, after all, and one of her ships was now a hunk of lifeless debris. Her eyes glittered coldly at him. "Your people are incompetent," she said upon his entry. "You call yourself a security force, yet you allow this facility of all of them to be compromised?"

"I have already ordered an investigation into how they got past the security checkpoints," he replied, feeling his temper struggle against her recriminations. "There may be treason afoot in my organization, either for ideological or mercenary purposes."

"The Terran Coalition is the most likely culprit."

"Agreed. But I will need proof."

"It can be provided," she offered. "Although with the state of affairs on Canaan, it may not be necessary."

Antoine wondered what she meant. Understanding came to him. "Ah. The Coalition's current political situation, you mean."

"Yes. Vice President Rhodes has devoted her entire political career to this peace treaty, and she distrusts the CDF greatly." Aristide's frown didn't go away as she spoke. "Of greater concern was the security lapse that led to this situation. Unorganized agents infiltrated this facility and made off with prisoners and possibly data. Our place here is compromised."

"I will see to the continuance of the operation," he assured her. "For security's sake, the project can be relocated to the lunar station."

Her expression shifted slightly. "That will involve shipping new subjects off-planet. Will your superiors protest?"

"It will be done carefully. I will also begin the approval for wide-spread implantation of the technology. Breivik must be ready. Word of the technology is due to leak soon anyway." And the Council will be shaky. I must present them with the Republic government's approval to ensure theirs.

"He is recovering now, but I will see to it he understands what is needed. I only wish you had understood the requirements as well. My people should have been in charge of security here, not yours."

"If I gave the League that kind of power here, the Council would turn against me," he reminded her. "Their commitment is still uncertain."

"Such is always true of a non-Social government," she replied. "It is a weakness that plagues all of you."

As if your League is bereft of factionalism. If that were true, you would not be doing these experiments on Hestia. Antoine nearly said the thought aloud but stopped himself. Right now, he still needed Aristide, since he still needed Breivik. As soon as he has completed his work, that will change.

"The loss of the Cataphract is another matter. It may complicate our involvement in Neutral Space affairs."

"It would, yes." Antoine grinned. "But I have a solution for that problem already in mind…"

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The call Antoine was awaiting and dreading came as he returned to his office. Rene's face appeared on the screen, the night skyline of Bekeleville shining behind him "Antoine. I've received word of an attack on the Thyssenbourg security center. Is it true Tia Nguyen was rescued by Hestian rebels?"

"Categorically untrue," Antoine replied. "She was taken, yes, but it wasn't Hestians. It was her spacer crew with a military-trained infiltration team in support."

That news didn't make Rene any happier. "A military team? Who? Was it the Terran Coalition?"

"We don't know yet, cousin, although I would guess so."

As he expected, his cousin reacted to the news with a nervous expression. He ran a hand over his mouth as if in thought. "The project may need to be canceled," he said. "If the Coalition is getting involved, we can't afford their enmity."

"I’ll handle it, Rene," he said. "I already have a response planned. It will be the Coalition that is on the backfoot, not us."

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I know their vulnerabilities, cousin. They are a divided people right now. With the right words said and the right accusations leveled, they will be too busy fighting amongst themselves to come for us."

Rene seemed uncertain. "Nguyen's escape, it is still a blow. The revolutionaries will be emboldened."

"It is, but one we can make good. The Hestians are still cowed. With the League's help, we've kept them from rearming. A crackdown will serve to remind them of what resistance leads to when the implantation process begins." Seeing that his cousin was not being swayed, Antoine decided on another point. "Cousin, the money is spent. To back out now will be to waste it and leave us vulnerable. With the first squadron nearly ready and the implantation process soon to begin, the only safe route for our family is to see the project through to completion. Once we have the fleet, all of our expenses will be covered by the profit we will amass."

For several seconds, Rene was silent, visibly wrestling with his uncertainty versus the certain knowledge of what a retreat would mean for the company and their family. "I suppose you are right, cousin. With the news of our financial situation partially leaked, we can't afford to quit now. We have to see this through to save our company."

"I'll handle everything," Antoine promised. "Including Tia Nguyen. Her use as an amnestied rebel is at an end, and her martyrdom is now irrelevant."

"I don't want any details. Just see to it. Good night." With that, Rene cut the call.

Antoine settled back in his chair, smiling coldly. Rene would always waver. It was his weak fortitude holding back the ambition that the Rigault family built a business empire with. I can deal with that easily enough, once we're established. But other matters must come first.

With his computer controls, he easily tapped into the GalNet and made a call. After several moments, the visage of Kepper appeared on the screen. "I'm still not to Trinidad," the bounty hunter said. "Has there been an update?"

"There is a new situation, Mister Kepper," he answered. "Return to Hestia immediately. By the time you get here, I will have another quarry for you."

"Oh? Bag or tag?"

"'Tag', this time, Mister Kepper." He smiled. "Definitely 'tag'."


The uninhabited star system was known on most astrographical maps as SNV-3-40, three jumps from the independent San Salvador system. At the jump limit of this quiet, uninhabited solar system, the Majha coasted along at a light piracy evasion velocity, her sublight drives quiet for the moment. The crew of the ship went about their duties thankful for their escape.

In one of the ship's spare quarters, James Henry stared vacantly at the bulkhead. His eyes were still reddened from the tears shed for his lost friend. The loss of Felix compounded that of the Shadow Wolf. He felt like a massive hole was freshly carved out of his heart.

Losing the Wolf was always going to happen, of course. The structural damage from the fusion drive saw to that. But to lose it so soon, and with it so many family items, so many things that were a part of his life, made it all the worse.

That all still compared lightly to the death of Felix. His best friend in the galaxy, who'd stood beside him through their childhood in Tylerville, Halsey Station Officer Academy, his disgrace from the CDF… he was gone, just like Charlie. Even when they still had so much to say to one another, so much to do…

Even worse, Henry would have to tell Jules and the Rothbards about the loss of their beloved brother and son, spreading the grief he already felt to others.

The door slid open. He briefly glanced toward it to see Tia step in. The Majha crew kindly provided her a spacer's jumpsuit to replace the prisoner suit she was rescued in. It was a darker gray than the ones they'd used on the Wolf.

That wasn't the only difference. There was a new intensity to Tia's storm-gray eyes now. A tightness around her brow that had nothing to do with being near middle age. She'd been through an ordeal and, like any such experience, it left a change in her.

Henry didn't want to talk. Didn't want to hear the condolences, the pity. He just wanted it all to go quiet, even if it meant drinking his way to the bottom of a whiskey bottle. It was only the memory of what he found in that lab that drew words from his throat. "Good to see you're fine."

Tia shook her head. "I won't be fine until they get this thing out of my neck. Maybe not even then."


She sat down next to him. "We never got along. He was always a pain in the ass."

"He always said the same about you."

"Of course he would." She set her hand on his shoulder. "He'll be missed."


"And the ship. I know what it meant to you." She drew in a pained breath. "I had a lot of good memories on her too. We all did. I'm sorry you had to lose her, and Felix, to save me."

"Nothing to be sorry about. You deserved to get out of there." With that said, he went quiet.

She pressed on. "Thank you for coming for me. I was starting to lose hope."

"You're welcome."

Henry kept looking toward his feet and the ground. He could tell there was more Tia wanted to say, but right now, he couldn't think about anything, didn't want to hear anything. It all felt so hollow. He had nothing left.

A sigh came from her. "When you're ready, I'd like to talk. About everything."

"Yeah," was all he could manage.

He didn't react when her hand pulled away. "Oskar's probably ready by now," she said. "I'll be back."

When she got no answer, she left the room.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Majha's infirmary had some of the best medical technology available, once one was shown all of the special cabinets and lockers by the ship's physician. CDF Intelligence wouldn't settle for anything less, given the importance of the vessel and its crew.

For the moment, Dr. Singh was not in charge of his own infirmary. He stood by as assistant to Oskar for the operation, providing assistance as necessary while Oskar opened up the back of Tia's neck. The others were all watching, all waiting, from outside the surgical theater, anxious to see if something would go wrong.

Oskar's work was precise and methodical. It had to be, given he was working with Tia's nervous system. An error might permanently injure her, even cripple her.

Singh's nurse helpfully sponged sweat from Oskar's forehead while Singh monitored Tia's vital scenes. She remained blissfully unaware of their work thanks to the anesthetic that rendered her unconscious for the duration.

It took two hours, in the end, but when it was over, he pulled the implant from her spine with a pair of tweezers and set it in a dish. Singh provided the dermal regenerative to the open surgical wound before sealing it under bandaging. Oskar held up the implant and let out a sigh. To think that something so evil could look so innocent…

By the time they cleaned up, Tia was waking up. "Good news?" she asked him.

"It's out." He handed the implant to her. "If it helps, do with it what you wish."

It wouldn't really help anything, but it gave Tia great pleasure to drop the implant to the deck and smash it with her foot.

Together they walked out into the infirmary. With the exception of Henry, all of the old Shadow Wolf crew were gathered. "She's fine," he assured them. "The operation was a complete success." He won applause. He knew the appropriate response was to smile, but none formed on his face. Oskar kept thinking back to the design of the implant. To its very existence.

"That must have been hard to get out," Piper said. A smile came to her face. "Honestly, I don't think we ever say how fortunate we are to have someone as skilled as you for our ship surgeon."

"In this case, Piper, it is undeserved," he replied. He felt the tremor in his voice match the one inside him. "I could remove it so easily because I created it."

With the exception of Brigitte, the others exchanged glances of confusion. He didn't blame them, couldn't blame them. After everything that happened on Millerton, he never wanted to talk about it.

Samina was the first to speak. "Doctor, I know you're not the kind of man to make something so horrible." Her eyes remained warm and considerate as they kept a gentle focus on him. "You don't have to be afraid of telling us about it."

This sentiment was met by nods from the others. "You might as well, Oskar," Brigitte suggested. "Given everything happening, best to have the truth out."

"Yes. You are right about that," he agreed. After drawing in a sigh, he found a chair graciously provided by Dr. Singh, who excused himself afterward. "Many years ago, as a student surgeon, I dealt with a case of a young man crippled in an aircar accident. He lost his limbs, and the damage to his nerves precluded prosthetics."

"Ya couldn't clone new ones for him then?" asked Vidia.

Oskar shook his head. "The nerve damage was too extensive for clone replacement as an alternative, and clone replacements are rare in the League anyway; our technology is behind yours." He placed his hands together in his lap while keeping his eyes on his shipmates. "After my graduation, as you know, I was conscripted into the Social Defense Militia and sent to join the forces in Sagittarius. Here I found many other similar cases from those wounded in the war. From the League and, yes, Coalition prisoners as well." He shook his head. "I started to think about ways to bypass the nervous system to make functional prosthetics for those with such damage, or with degenerative disorders and diseases. Something that would give them their lives back. I was encouraged by my friend and mentor, Dr. Jan Breivik, my superior in the Defense Militia's hierarchy."

"So that explains why he spoke about you," Tia said.

Oskar nodded. "We were very close over those years. Close enough to confide in each other our qualms with some of our work in the Militia. Especially the matter of the socialization camps and their cruelty." The low voice of his tone reflected the weight of that trust. For Brigitte especially it hammered home the level of trust in such confidences, given the League's notorious attitude toward dissent against its practices. "Naturally, I spoke of my ideas to him and he backed me. He provided lab and computer simulation time for me to develop my ideas. At first, I thought it was professional and moral support. But I later learned what he really had in mind."

Everyone's attention remained focused as he took a drink from a water pouch. There was pain on his face now, the pain of a shattered trust. "Jan had his own ideas for the technology, obviously. He did not share them until I was at the animal testing stage. While I sought a way for a human brain to control a machine through the interface, he was more interested in the opposite."

"Controlling the brain with a machine," Pieter grumbled.

"Yes." Oskar shook his head. "He wanted something beyond my goal of functional limbs for those with damaged or decayed nerves. His idea was to use the implant to replace the socialization camps. To find a way to control thoughts mechanically with the device, to make certain concepts impossible for someone to keep in their minds. Dissent against Society would no longer be merely illegal, it would be mentally impossible."

"It would turn everyone into a slave," Piper gasped. "I mean, nobody would be able to think anything the League didn't want them to think."

"Yes. Jan believes this the humane alternative to the camps," Oskar answered.

"Explaining why he told me he'd get the implant too." Tia frowned.

"I still don't understand why," Samina complained. "Why is this the only alternative to the camps? Why doesn't the League just let people think whatever they want?"

Brigitte scowled. "Because they like to boss us around."

"It did feel like that, didn't it?" Oskar smiled thinly. "A deeper answer may be found in history. The League's view of history, that of the World Society idea, is that deviation from Social thought and Social virtue leads to suffering and chaos. It leads to the extremes of individualism. The individual, without Society to give purpose and structure, becomes lost in base desires and the terror of their mortality. Because of this, any anti-Social thought must be swiftly suppressed. For one's own good."

"So ye wanted this technology t' heal people," said Cera. "An' this friend o' yers decided t' use it t' control instead?"

"Yes. From his own perspective, it is the superior alternative to the necessary, and unnecessary, cruelties of the socialization camps." Oskar shook his head. "I begged him to reconsider. That such a use would be inhumane in of itself. He would turn us all into puppets of a central machine. But Jan was determined to end the camps. He believed I found the way to transform all of Society into the best it could become. In the end, my only choice was to desert as I did." He gestured toward Brigitte. "She was to be the first test subject. On the day they brought Brigitte in for the implant procedure, I used the sedative on Dr. Breivik instead. I destroyed our notes, the test implant, and everything I could to prevent him from restarting the project without me."

"Now I wish you'd have killed the wanker when we had the chance," Brigitte grumbled.

"Perhaps it would have been for the better. I simply couldn't bring myself to do it, however. I thought maybe the shock of my desertion would make him understand how far he'd gone." His eyes settled on Tia. "Instead, I brought about your suffering, and I cannot apologize enough, Tia. My work is responsible, so I am responsible."

Tia shook her head. "Oskar, I know what deserting the League means. You took a big risk trying to stop this. Breivik and Aristide and Rigault are responsible for what was done to me, not you, and I don't hold it against you." Her eyes met his. There was warmth in them that made his heart lighter. "You freed me from what they did, and I can't thank you enough."

"You are welcome," he said. He stood quietly. "Well, I had better get everything ready. Some of those you liberated also have the implant, and I will need time to remove them all. Doctor Singh and I will be quite busy."

"I need to go see someone myself." Tia turned her attention to the others. "I know we've got a lot to talk about. As soon as we get to a planet, we'll have to discuss what we're all going to do. Until then, let's stay out of the way of Captain Chagger's people."

The others nodded in reply.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After leaving the others, Tia traveled across the ship to her next meeting. She felt a thrill of elation at the lack of that ominous warmth at the back of her neck, something she welcomed more than her actual freedom from captivity.

Linh met her near the ship's living areas. Tears formed in her eyes as the two old comrades embraced. "It's wonderful to see you're okay," Linh said. "I was worried about what they would do to you."

"You had good reason to be. I hear you narrowly avoided capture yourself."

"I wasn't as ready for them as I thought," Linh lamented. "Jim and the others fought hard enough that Felix's CDF team was able to take the kidnappers down before they got away with me."

"I'll have to thank them later." Tia said those words and couldn't stop the wince that formed on her face. She couldn't thank Felix, not now. He was gone for good. I'll miss the old bastard. I can't believe it, but I will. "You wanted to see me?"

"My cousin does, actually. The officers' wardroom is empty and Captain Chagger let me borrow it for this. Follow me."

Tia let her friend lead her into another section of the ship. Upon their arrival at the wardroom, Tia recognized young Quan Khánh and an older man, also one of the freed prisoners. "Comrade Tia!" Quan remained enthusiastic. "This is Comrade Shahkrit. He's Chairman of the Party chapter in Hue."

"Comrade." Tia nodded to the man. He looked to be a few years younger than her.

Shahkrit returned the nod. "Comrade. It is a great honor to meet you both." He smiled warmly. "Two of the surviving heroes of the Great Betrayal."

"Not counting the amnestied survivors either?" asked Tia.

He shook his head. "No. Some of them… well, they retain amicable relations with Party members, but those who have gone over to our betrayers and the corporate government have all been read out of the Party."

Tia felt a pang in her heart, a barb of sadness and anger. "Like Felipe Xiu."

Shahkrit nodded. "Yes. I know he was a friend and good comrade in his youth."

"We would have died that day if not for him," Linh said. "What is it you wanted to see us about?"

"A matter of great importance for our people," Shahkrit explained. "My capture aside, the Hestian Workers Party and our allies in the other anti-corporate movements are doing well. Many of the cadres lost sixteen years ago have been rebuilt with a new generation of Hestians ready to fight for our freedom."

Those words were a pleasant surprise to Tia. "I had no idea," she said. "With the lack of guerrilla activity, I believed the Party was still recovering."

"That was the plan, although it was the HBC we hoped to trick." Quan grinned. "The less a threat we seem, the more their need for profit drives down their security programs."

"That has been our plan. To remain quiet and rebuild, slowly." Shahkrit settled his hands on the table. "Over the past several years, we've arranged a number of arms caches in and around Thyssenbourg and the other major corporate cities. I will give you specifics soon."

"You intend to try our strategy again," Tia said. "To seize the cities in a single stroke and force the corporations to negotiate."

"Yes, that is our intent." Shahkrit shook his head. "But now I fear we may be running out of time."

"How so?" asked Linh.

"This ship's captain graciously let me contact some of my peers."

"Over the GalNet?" Tia wondered about that. It sounded dangerous.

"We have… off-world allies," Shahkrit remarked delicately. "Fellow Hestians or comrades from other worlds with corporate influences looking to aid our movement. They can maintain contact with those left on Hestia without risking Rigault or his allies tracking the Majha."

"We shouldn't underestimate them," Tia warned. "But go on."

"The Hestian National Assembly just announced a vote to be held, in about two weeks' time," Shahkrit said. "They will debate a new law allowing for corporate managers to require the use of a 'security chip' in every worker as an anti-strike and anti-sabotage measure, on pain of dismissal without reference." He frowned deeply and, Tia thought, for good reason. "Dismissal without reference" was a megacorp tactic to blacklist revolutionaries or those Hestians that they considered too independent. Nobody would hire someone without reference outside of a small circle of small businesses, businesses that never earned well. Any Hestian in that situation was more likely to either starve to death or, in the attempt to get food, get arrested and sent to penal labor. "Our contacts expect it to pass, given the influence supporting it."

"The implant." Tia's gut twisted. "That's a cover for the implant. They're going to turn our people into puppets."

"We have to move before they can start the implant process, or we risk them holding our people hostage against us."

"Are your forces ready to attempt a new revolution?" Linh asked Shahkrit.

The answer was clear on his face before he spoke. "No. We haven't trained sufficiently, and it is difficult to do so. Nor do we have the numbers to overwhelm the HSF. We certainly can't if they have League security troops aiding them."

"So we need outside help."

"Yes, Comrade Tia, we do; it is our only chance now."

Tia stood. "I'll consult with Captain Chagger. Maybe the Coalition will act due to the League presence. Even covert support…"

She was cut off by the sound of a borrowed link going off. Shahkrit removed it from his jumpsuit and checked it. His face paled.

"What is it?"

"Damn that Rigault," Shahkrit swore. "He is clever." When his answer clearly proved insufficient, Shahkrit tapped at the link screen and turned up the volume for the resulting replay.

A woman's voice came over the link, speaking with a Canaan accent. "—allegations from Neutral Space about CDF covert activities on the world of Hestia. According to a press statement by Director Antoine Rigault of the Hestian Security Forces, a recent attack and mass prisoner escape from the Thyssenbourg Justice and Rehabilitation Center was conducted by CDF special forces. The Director is accusing the Terran Coalition of backing 'political radicals' through this act and the destruction of a destroyer stated to belong to Rigault Heavy Industries' security fleet."

"That damn liar."

Linh's interruption ended just in time for more. "Spokesmen for the League peace delegation in Lawrence City echoed the charges and provided identification for several CDF officers supposedly involved in the action, led by a Major Albert Wu of the Terran Coalition Marine Corps. It is further alleged that former CDF officer Colonel James Henry was a planner of the attack. Colonel Henry, who was cleared several months ago of wrongdoing in the loss of the CSV Laffey in '46, is accused of working with a revolutionary wanted by the Hestian government for terrorism-related charges. An unnamed source claimed Henry and his crew were directly involved and may be responsible for the loss of the Rigault ship.

"We have no formal word from Cabinet yet, but a source close to Vice President Rhodes confirms the Coalition government is investigating the claims and will act to protect the peace treaty from 'rogue militarist elements'."

"That was the GNN service," Shahkrit said.

"That son of a bitch." Tia slammed a fist on the table. "He's burning the bridge before we can cross it."

"And burning Jim and his crew too," Linh pointed out. "We'd better talk to Captain Chagger."

Somehow, Tia suspected she wouldn't be in the most understanding of moods.


The San Salvador system was just one jump from Coalition space. The garden world's biosphere was one of the more lush types found, although the native flora and fauna contained chemical components not easily digested by Earth-descended species. The need to rely on food imports and careful soil replacement for native crop-growing and animal husbandry contributed to the planet's relative lack of settlement and economic difficulties.

Tia stood off in the corner of the bridge while Chagger and Wu conversed with a figure on the viewscreen. She recognized former Major Janine Renner of the CDF with a slight scowl, remembering Renner's brutal attack on Pieter and Samina so she could sabotage the Shadow Wolf. Nevertheless, she remained silent as Renner spoke to the others.

"So the rumors are true?" Kaiya's voice was tight with displeasure.

Renner nodded. "The resignation was made official this morning. Barton played Rhodes' hatchet-man for it. Ostrovsky's gone silent, probably heading back to New Israel. Honestly, I'm expecting an arrest warrant any day for him."

"We sent Ostrovsky our evidence," Wu said, his disbelief obvious. "Didn't Fuentes see it?"

"Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter. Barton made sure Rhodes has seen it, but she's apparently convinced it’s all forgeries. She thinks it’s a CDF plot to destroy the peace treaty. Barton's already issued a formal apology and a vow to court-martial any CDF officers proven to be involved."

"So we've been disavowed." Tia heard the pain in Kaiya's voice.

"Just about."

"What about you, Renner?" Wu asked. "Why are you the one calling us? Won't they arrest you?"

Renner shook her head. "I'm just a civilian working for a communications equipment firm that does minor contractor work for the CDF. They've got no surveillance on me, and since I'm experienced with these kinds of communications, General Ostrovsky left instructions with me just in case this happened." Renner pursed her lips. "There's nothing more that can be done. Rhodes believes that there's another cabal in the CDF trying to restart the war. Given what the press shows and what Ostrovsky's told me, she's maniacal about it. Barton's the only general officer she trusts because he is completely on board with the treaty."

"They only named me," said Wu. "Maybe I can stay behind and Captain Chagger can bring her ship back, at least?"

"I wouldn't go anywhere into Coalition space right now," Renner warned. "You were there. That's enough for Barton to order the court-martials. I'm sorry, Captain, but if you come home, the only thing you'll accomplish is the Majha getting reclaimed by the fleet and your crew treated like rogues."

Kaiya clenched a fist and closed her eyes. The frustration burned in them.

"Ostrovsky had some final requests for you," Renner continued. "Two, actually."


"'Keep up the fight', and 'warn Captain Henry to stay out'." Renner's voice choked up a little at the name of the CO she'd once betrayed.

Tia couldn't stop herself. She spoke up. "Warn him about what?"

Renner seemed nonplussed by Tia's sudden entry into the conversation. She answered immediately. "Rhodes wants him, wants you all, arrested on terrorism charges the moment you show up in Coalition space. The CBI'll do it too, after you embarrassed them in Tylerville."

Tia clenched her fists. "Doesn't this woman give a damn about what Rigault's done? About the oppression my people face? The fact that they're going to turn us all into literal puppets?"

Renner shook her head. "The only thing Rhodes cares about is keeping the peace treaty. It's her crowning achievement. Like I said, she's maniacal about her belief that it's threatened by the CDF. She won't accept any evidence of League duplicity against the peace. She'll think it's a lie to justify tearing her treaty up. And Fuentes' entire administration will collapse if she turns on him, so he's trapped." Renner shook her head. "I'm sorry, Miss Nguyen. You're not going to be getting CDF help here. Not officially. The CIS, I don't know about, but I wouldn't hold my breath there either."

Tia bit her lip and nodded. "I see."

Before she could step out of the frame, Renner spoke up. "Extend my condolences to Captain Henry, please. I know Colonel Rothbard meant a lot to him. I… I can't believe he's dead."

"I will." Tia returned to her seat dejected. The Coalition was her best hope, and now she knew there wouldn't be anything there. There simply wasn't time to try to rally people inside the Coalition against Rigault and the League.

I'll have to go elsewhere. Trinidad Station, Lusitania, the ISU, the Saurians, the Matrinid... anyone who'll listen, who might help us fight!

The call ended. "She may have just gotten herself arrested," Wu said, speaking of Renner. "If the CBI finds out she talked to us."

"Without Ostrovsky's mercy, she would’ve gone to Lambert's Lament already." Kaiya's voice was hollow. She could only return to her homeworld at the risk of arrest and trial. Like Tia, she was now an exile, and Tia could hear that pain in her voice. "We will need to change our IFF codes and designation. Ostrovsky's successor will be one of Barton's people. Even if we're not hunted, we're going to lose our financial support within days."

"Any plans?"

Kaiya shrugged. "I am tempted to simply return the Majha to Khalistan anyway. Let them do as they please. I know how to disappear back home, and my people will help us do so, whatever Rhodes and her pets in the government say."

"I understand, Captain, but first, I'd like to ask your help." Tia kept the fury from her voice, since Kaiya didn't deserve it. "If the Coalition won't use this data, other people will. Lusitania, Cyrilgrad, Trinidad Station; they all need to be warned."

"I can share the information with your contacts, certainly." Kaiya smiled bitterly. "I am a 'rogue operative' after all, aren't I? A very bad one, as I won't even charge you for it."

"And maybe more," Tia continued. "If we can get allies, the Majha can serve in a fleet to bring us to Hestia. Weapons, arms, fighters."

Kaiya folded her arms. "That may be more than I can promise. Our funds will not last long without access to CDF Intelligence accounts. I need to get this ship working if I'm to wait out Rhodes. I can't afford to sit here for however long it takes you to rally a fleet."

"Give me a few days, at least," Tia urged, trying not to sound too desperate. "I know it's asking a lot, but what we're facing… you can't just ignore it."

There was a twitch on the Sikh woman's face. "No, I cannot," she admitted. "I will remain in orbit for forty-eight hours to give my crew time to consider their choices and to find potential work. If you've got something solid by then, I'll add the Majha to your fleet. If not, I'll have to move on. I'm sorry, but that's the best I can do."

"I understand. Thank you for that. I mean it." She turned to Wu. "Major, what about your team?"

He shrugged. The news from Canaan clearly had them reeling. "They'll be in for a fight. They saw the other prisoners with those things in their heads. We need to eat, though, and our own discretionary funding won't last forever."

Tia got the message. She went for the door. "I'll keep in touch," she promised. I've got two days to prove we've got allies to win this. Just two days…

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia's next destination was the ship's mess. As she'd requested, the Shadow Wolf's crew was present. All showed bereavement in their own way, from Samina's reddened eyes to Brigitte's subdued expression. "So, bad news from Canaan?" asked Vidia.

"We're all terrorists and fugitives, apparently."

"Bloody pacifist sassenach," Cera grumbled.

"If Felix were here, he'd be giving a good rant about the Peace Union," Piper observed. Her left hand was curled around the crystal hanging from her necklace, her fingers lipping around the edges. It was a nervous tic one didn't see often from her, but the situation wasn't normal either.

"So, I know we've all taken a blow," Tia began, "but I—"


Tia glanced toward Miri. She blinked at the brunt interruption.

"You're about to ask us whether we're up to joining you in trying to stop Rigault, even if it means overthrowing Hestia's government," Miri said. "We already voted. We're all in to stop them."

Tia swallowed and nodded. "I can't promise anything. I can't even say we'll get a chance to do this. Captain Chagger gave me forty-eight standard hours to show I can do this, or she's going off to do other jobs."

"Then we'd better get started. I'll see if al-Lahim can get us any intel, and get that data from the raid sent on to Cyrilgrad and Lusitania."

"Chief Khánh can send it to Trinidad," Samina offered.

"If we are to participate in any return to Hestia, we will require a ship," rumbled Yanik.

"That's my next item of business, trust me." Tia's eyes filled with tears, forcing her to wipe them away to see. "I thought I'd have to come in here and encourage everyone. I was ready to hear you say 'no'."

"That wasn't happening." Pieter shook his head. "We've come too far now."

"This neural device issue is too big. We can't back out," Piper added. "The League has to be stopped, and so does Rigault."

"We all feel the same way," Oskar assured her. "No more running. We fight, if at all possible."

"Thank you." Tia redoubled her efforts to fight her tears back, but they still leaked through. "Do what you need to do. I have to go see Henry. We're going to need a ship."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After finding Henry was missing from his assigned quarters, Tia raced to where she expected to find him.

She arrived at the ship's launching bay in time to catch him preparing to embark on one of the Majha's shuttles. "Jim?" She rushed up to within a few meters of him. "Where are you going?"

She knew the answer to the question the moment she saw his face. The deep pain in his eyes, the way his face seemed to just barely be holding back the emotions beneath—it was clear what he wanted. He barely seemed to be trying as his voice was barely a mumble in reply. "Going down to visit the dealers. Going to see about a new ship."

Seeing him like that hurt. With everything he's lost, I can't be angry. I want to be. I need him, we need him, now more than ever. But he's in so much pain, I can't be angry with him.

"Jim, I know it hurts. But getting drunk won't bring back Felix. It won't bring back the Wolf. They're both gone."

"I know. So's my rifle, and my old digital reader, and the crystal tumbler set Charlie gave me." He leaned against the shuttle. "I've got to process it."

"I know, and I want you to. But this isn't processing. It's just putting it off." Tia took a step toward him. "Please. We need you now, more than ever. You're the captain of this crew."

"Not anymore," he said. "I lost that right when I stopped leading. That's you now, Tia, just as it was meant to be."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that you're the leader of this crew now," he said. "You're the one who can rally everyone. You've got the heart to keep them together, inspire them. You're already doing it." He gestured toward her. "Look at you. Everything they did to you, and you never gave up."

She heard the admiration in his voice at that. "I almost did." She shook her head. "It hurt so much. I'm not sure I could've lasted much longer."

"Maybe, but I never went that far. I gave up far earlier than you did." Shame burned in his eyes. "And they didn't torture me. Didn't turn me into a puppet. They just pushed me, and I folded. You didn't."

"Jim…" Tia fought back the anger she felt, but couldn't quite keep it from her voice. "Jim, you've got to stop this. Stop this… this whole thing with your past. I know what happened with Erhart hurt you, but you've let it take you over. You need to let go and move on. You define yourself by this thing in your past so much that you ignore what you've shown to all of us. Every member of the crew knows how good a person you are. You've been there for each and every one of us. In lean times, you've foregone your own pay to make sure we got ours. Whenever someone threatens us, you've stepped in. You're a far better man than you give yourself credit for, and all of us can see it! Why can't you?"

He closed his eyes. "Because I don't feel it. Because I gave in when I shouldn't have. Erhart nearly killed billions and would've torn the galaxy apart, and he would've never gotten that far if I'd held fast that night on the Clemenceau."

"You don't know that," Tia said hotly. "With the way he had the deck stacked, it's far more likely you'd have spent the rest of your life in prison, and he wouldn't have been stopped!"

"It's not about whether I'd have won!" he roared. "It's about the fact I didn't try. The moment I faced defeat, I gave up! Maybe I'd have lost anyway, but at least I would have tried." He held a hand out. "And look where we ended up. I've become a mess, and we both know it. Now that my friend is dead and I've lost my only real home for the last sixteen years, I'm even worse! I'm not fit to lead this crew anymore." He said each word with the voice of a man uncertain of anything.

"You're selling yourself short," she retorted. "They still believe in you and I still believe in you. We've seen what you can do."

His face twisted into frustration. "I can't. Not anymore." Without saying another word, he slipped into the shuttle.

Tia nearly lunged for the door, ready to join him and continue pleading her case. She was stopped by the hand that settled on her shoulder. Her head turned to see Vidia standing beside her. "Ya can't argue a man inta forgivin' himself. Ya can only stand back an' encourage him."

"We still need him."

Vidia nodded. "An' he needs us. But we can't make him be somethin' he's not ready ta be. Give him time."

Both heard the shuttle engines and stepped away, giving the vessel a clear berth.


The Majha shuttle descended toward San Salvador's largest city and provided a glimpse of the kind of mid-sized capital city common on many of the less-important Neutral Space worlds. San Tomas Correlo was built with the kind of baroque architecture popular to worlds settled by the descendants of the Latin American diaspora, whether they came with the initial Exodus or the various follow-on fleets fleeing the rise of the League and its gradual conquest of the Orion Spur.

The city's traffic control was anemic. Henry relied on his own piloting skills and sensors to guide the shuttle down to the spaceport near the center of the city. He paid for a pad rental out of his own accounts and went through the usual motions of securing the craft behind him.

While San Salvador was not a major world even by Neutral Space standards, it had enough population to command some interstellar trade, and that meant it had starship dealers. Henry used his link to bring up a list of them. The list was small and the names, mostly Spanish, didn't win any recognition. Most would probably have only lightweight haulers and cargo runners, and anything even near the size of the Shadow Wolf would likely be so run down as to demand extensive refurbishment.

Just like the Wolf did, he remembered. That brought back a flood of memories, of the months spent slowly repairing the ship's damage from meteor impacts alongside Uncle Charlie. They'd work as much as Charlie's job would let them, sealing up hull breaches, refurbishing the launching engines and the GXRs, replacing the carbon filters on the life support tanks…

Those cherished memories no longer warmed him. Every image was a repeated stab to the heart with the reminder of what he'd lost. Charlie, Felix, his ship…

By the time he was walking out of the spaceport, all thought of checking the dealers evaporated. He found himself walking down an avenue that straddled the city center with one of the dilapidated barrios. His link guided him to his desired destination.

The bar was as good as one would expect for the neighborhood. The lighting was turned low. Neon signs declared that certain brands of ale and beer were in stock. A 2D holovid projector showed the flat image of a football game from Darien for the benefit of the employees more than the patrons.

He lowered himself onto a stool near the end of the bar. The barkeeper, a man with an olive tone to his complexion and a scarred face, wordlessly presented himself to Henry while wiping down a glass. Henry fished his credit chit from his jacket pocket and dropped it to the bar. The barkeeper scanned it. "Tab's open," he said in a rough, accented voice.

"Whiskey. Bourbon, if you've got it. Leave the bottle with me."

The barkeeper checked his stock. He set down a bottle. One of the brewers on the planet Bluegrass, which was a mark in its favor, although the label design was old. At Henry's accepting nod, he received a tumbler, which the barkeeper poured a shot into. A wave of Henry's hand warded any additions to the drink.

The bourbon had the smooth taste he enjoyed, a little on the sweeter side, but the alcohol still hit as potently as he'd hoped. After letting the drink burn its way to his stomach, Henry took another drink.

By the third drink, his thoughts were drifting back to the painful matter before him. His ship was gone and he wasn't sure what he'd do next. If he could do anything.

We kept pushing it, he thought. Getting mixed up with that business at Lusitania, then Erhart, now this… our luck was always due to run out.

He considered drink number four while the haze of the prior drinks gently settled in his thoughts. Why was he doing this? He was supposed to be looking for a new ship, wasn't he?

But what was the point? He was barred from his home again because of the politics back on Canaan. Any world that did business with the megacorps that ruled Hestia were denied to him as well. Could he do enough business on the other worlds? He wasn't sure.

What were his alternatives? Go off and become a mercenary? There were security firms that would value his CDF experience, certainly, but making enemies of the HBC megacorps would be a major impediment.

He could embrace his pariah status. Forget being a smuggler and turn to raiding the people who hated him. Get a ship with armaments and hunt HBC and League ships. Maybe sign on with the Tokarevs or the privateers out of Trinidad.

I'm not a damn pirate. That thought was followed by another. I'm a damn coward.

That was the start and end of it all, wasn't it? Deep down, he knew that when he faced defeat against overwhelming odds, he picked surrender. He could’ve fought Erhart that night. Could’ve fought to clear his name. It might've stopped Erhart from getting so close to winning. A couple thousand lives wouldn't have been lost at Erhart's hands. Instead he surrendered and Erhart went on to become an even greater threat.

He took the fourth drink. As it burned its way to join the others, the bitter thought came. Here I am, on my way to becoming a drunk failure. A fitting end for a coward. He picked up the bottle and refilled the tumbler. It wobbled a little in his hand, but none of the liquid spilled onto the bartop.

He was in the middle of another drink when a voice spoke out from beside him. "You going to finish that all by yourself?" asked the baritone voice. The man beside him had a rich voice. Strong. The English accent was certainly New Virginian.

"Probably," Henry said.

"That's a lot for one fellow. You're drinking like a man trying to forget something."

"Forgetting myself would be a start." Henry kept a hand on the glass. His eyes remained fixed on it. "About all I have left, I'd guess."

"Tough year?"

"Tough century." He avoided glancing toward his conversation partner. He'll leave me alone soon enough, he figured.

"Could be worse, I'm certain. Sometimes a man has to count his blessings."

The phrase reminded Henry of a hymn. Yet it was the sentiment he felt most in disagreement with. "Yes, a lot of people say that. 'Be grateful for what you actually have.' As if that can make up for what you've lost."

There was a chuckle beside him. "Yes, I can see what you mean." The tone of the man's voice felt familiar to him in its firm, paternal gentleness. "But I figure God doesn't give us burdens He doesn't think we can carry."

"God has nothing to do with it." Henry clenched a fist and felt that old wound inside of him ache. "God, if He's out there, stopped giving a damn about Humanity a long time ago."

"You think so?"

"I know it." Henry shook his head. "I feel it."

"Maybe it's not that you feel it, Jim. Maybe He's there and you just don't notice."

"The way things are going? That'd be even worse." Henry sipped at his drink, avoiding a full gulp this time. The whiskey left a string of fire down his throat. "I prayed to Him, on the worst night in my life. Asked for help. For a sign, for anything. All I got was silence."

"Yeah. That happens sometime, I figure. God doesn't always answer. Not if it'd get in the way of what He's got planned."

"Well, if He planned that, He ruined my life and ended up letting thousands of people die. Not really worthy of God, if you ask me." The sharp tone of Henry's voice was cutting, echoing the pain inside.

"Sometimes God sees further than we do, Jim. That can't make it easy to leave us hanging, but sometimes it has to be done."

"Does it now?" While he spoke with bitterness, Henry felt a part of his mind demanding he focus, that he pay attention "So what plan involves letting us dangle while the corrupt get to destroy our lives?"

"I wouldn't know for sure. I don't think any of us can."

"So we just have to hope it's all for something. Is that what you're saying?"

"That's what it means to have faith."

Those words brought up bitter feelings. He used to have faith. He used to go to Reverend Gill's services and let the faith fill him up with the belief in a just God who, in the shape of His son, came to Earth as a sacrifice for the sins of all. That faith brought him into service with the CDF, and into the war with the League, saw him through the death and bloodshed he'd found in the war.

Then that night came, in his makeshift prison on the Clemenceau, and it was gone. In the void its departure left was pain from the sense it was all for nothing.

Hearing someone invoke it like that was like prodding that wound with a salt-encrusted blade. His anger stoked and he readied to vent at the man.

But he didn't. A thought blazed through the haze of the whiskey and the pain in his soul.

"How did you know my name?" he asked.

"Isn't it obvious?" A laugh came, a laugh that struck a chord in him at how familiar, how right, it sounded. "Who doesn't know Captain James Henry of the Shadow Wolf, the former CDF officer who stopped the League at Lusitania?"

"That wasn't just me."

"It wasn't? If you hadn't been there, well, the way I hear it, that nice lady Miri Gaon would've ended up in the League's hands. Nobody would've stopped them from making the Coalition look guilty of trying to overthrow the Lusitanian government, and their allies there would've brought probably half of Neutral Space into the war on the League's side."

Henry's neck stiffened. He wanted to turn it, to face the speaker, but he couldn't bring himself to. Couldn't dare imagine what he'd see.

"Then you went off to Monrovia. Brought them the guns they needed to win their freedom from the League."

"I don't deserve credit for that," he said. His mouth went dry. The whiskey appealed to him and he very nearly took a drink. "I got paid. Made them pay a lot. It was just a job."

"Shooting down the League's transports and making them even angrier at you? That was just a job too?" That laugh, rich and pleasant, came again. "Don't be so modest. You weren't paid to help that much. And then there's Erhart. You could've run. You brought your cargo hauler into a fight with warships, after all."

"I wanted to get back at him," Henry said. "That was all."

"No, it wasn't. It wasn't just revenge. It certainly wasn't revenge when you went on a space walk with a fire extinguisher trying to save Linh Khánh. Or going after Tia. Getting her out of there, despite all the risk, that took courage."

"Who are you?" Henry asked, his voice hoarse.

"You know who I am, Jim."

His neck loosened. Now he couldn't dare not to look. His head turned until he faced his companion.

Charles Henry sat beside him.

It wasn't Uncle Charlie as he'd last seen him. He wasn't an emaciated old man wasting away in a hospital bed. This was the Uncle Charlie he knew growing up. Only starting to bald, dark hair with a graying fringe, a mustache and beard to frame a ready smile, brown eyes twinkling with life and love and purpose. The spaceport ship tech's jumpsuit he wore had all the right worn parts and tools.

It was too much. Henry was so startled, he lost his balance on his stool. He fell away from Charlie. The only thing that kept him from hitting the floor was a last second grip on the bar that whirled him about to face the bar itself.

A number of the other drinkers and customers were looking toward him now. He swallowed and rebalanced himself. He forced his head to turn back toward Charlie.

Charlie was gone.

"I think you've had enough," the bartender growled. He took away the bottle of whiskey.

Henry was considering his response when he heard the door open. He glanced toward it in time to see Charlie slip through.

He nearly jumped off the stool in his haste to get to the door.


Outside, the sun was drawing low in the early evening sky. People moved along the sidewalk while vehicles, most of them wheeled tire cars, moved along the road slowly. Nobody paid attention to Henry as he cast his gaze about.

He was ready to give up when he spotted Charlie across the road, standing at a street corner. He blinked, but the image in his eyes didn't change. Charlie was still standing there, grinning at him, waiting.

Henry dashed into the road at the first opening. The first half was easy enough, as traffic was already moving slowly. He darted around a delivery truck and a rare aircar before getting to the middle.

Traffic moved faster on this side. He got through the first line just to be forced to stop for a moment as a car sped by. Another was coming up, but he chose not to wait in his dangerous position. He rushed across to the other side as a horn blared angrily to his side. A voice shrieked a curse in Spanish as the vehicle passed just behind him.

Now that he was across the street, Henry turned toward the corner. He made his way through the light crowd, searching for a sign of Charlie, but he couldn't see him. He got to the corner and found his uncle wasn't there.

I'm drunk, he thought. I've got to be seeing things. Regardless of the sentiment, he scanned his surroundings again.

He almost missed Charlie this time. He'd moved a way down the street so that he was standing near a bodega. That same grin was on his face, as if this was a game of hide and seek when Henry was a child. Henry jogged down the street, pressing through and around people. This won him dirty looks but no other complaint.

Just as he came up to the bodega, he noticed Charlie was missing yet again. I must be drunk, he thought. Or drugged. I'm seeing things. He's not really here.

He still looked. Across the street, further down, into the bodega. He moved from there to the alley and looked both ways. When he didn't see anything, he continued on towards the back road on the far side of the alley, his head whipping around urgently. He didn't feel drunk, but that meant nothing. He could still be seeing things. This can't be happening.

"You're awfully desperate to find me, Jim."

The voice prompted him to whirl around. Charlie stood not ten feet away, hands in his jumpsuit pockets, that slight, loving grin on his face. Henry's heart skipped a beat. "You really need someone to talk to, don't you?"

"How… no." Henry shook his head. "I'm not seeing this. I'm not seeing you. We… we buried you."

"You did. And I know it hurt you, Jim. Just as it hurt you that we couldn't say goodbye that final time."

That pain flared back, mingling with his disbelief and wonder. "What… how…?"

"Those are good questions, but not the ones I'm here for." Charlie took a step forward. "Truth is, I'm worried about you, Jim. Worried about where your road is taking you. So much pain can drive a man toward bad ends, just like that Erhart fellow. Of course, that's where this starts for you, doesn't it?"

"Erhart." Henry bit into his lip. "He ruined my life."

"He did, but now the truth's out. Everything he did to you is undone. Almost everything anyway."

Henry didn't need to ask. "He showed me how the world works. We're on our own."

"That's what you've been telling yourself since, Jim. Doesn't mean it's true." Charlie shook his head. "I'm here now, aren't I?"

"I… I must be hallucinating."

"It could be a lot of things. But what's more important is still you. That night Erhart took what you had, it wasn't just respect, rank, dignity. He took something deeper. The same thing he'd lost."

Henry's final exchange with Erhart played in his head. Erhart's tearful confession of what happened to him when his son went MIA, and what it did to him. How it matched what he did to Henry. Aloud, he answered, "He took my faith. He broke it. Broke me. Made me surrender."

"Everyone's told you how you did what you had to do that night," Charlie said. "You were protecting your people. Sparing them. It's never been enough, has it?"

"I still surrendered," Henry said. "I still broke the faith of the CDF. 'Fight the good fight, no matter the odds.'" He could see Lieutenant James Henry looking on in shame across the years, shame at the broken promise to fight that good fight, for family and faith and freedom. "You gave me a life back, but keeping it… I had to do things."

"I know. But I had to save you before the shame destroyed you, even if I knew you'd end up doing those kinds of things." Charlie shook his head. "I always knew, in my heart, you were meant for greater things, and I had to keep you alive, keep you kicking."

"And now, here I am, a drunk old coward."

"No, Jim. No." Now Charlie took the final steps and laid hands on Henry's shoulders. "You've still got the good in you. You can feel it, when you let it. But you let that pain get in the way. Now, you have to face it. Deal with it. Get your faith back."

"In a God who answered me with silence?"

"No, Jim." Charlie shook his head softly. "This isn't about faith in God. It's about your faith in yourself. Have faith in the James Henry you know you can be. The other faith will follow."

"I can't," Henry insisted. "Don't you understand? I surrendered. I gave in."

"I know, and it hurt you. But you've got to move beyond that, Jim. Forgive yourself. Nobody can do it for you. Not me, not your crew, not even God can do it. You have to forgive yourself for that. Forgive yourself and let the wound heal."

"I…" Henry choked on a sob. The tears fogged his eyes. "I tried."

"No, Jim. You haven't." Charles kept his hands on Henry's shoulders. "Face that pain, Jim. Face that shame, and forgive yourself."

The words were so simple, but the act… Henry didn't think he could do it. Whenever he thought of that night, it hurt so much.

"I believe in you, Jim. You can do it."

Those words. It felt so good to hear those words again. To remember that Charlie always believed in what he could do, what he was. Even when everyone else thought, or just wondered, if he was a fallen officer. Charlie believed.

He faced the pain. The night in that stateroom on the CSV Clemenceau. His hand on the stencil, signing the plea deal, surrendering to Erhart's power. The tears in his eyes, matching the tears he shed now.

I forgive you, he thought. You did what you thought was right, and I forgive you for it.

The words seemed hollow again. Hollow, until Henry felt his heart, his soul, fill with those words. The wound ached in memory at contact with the sentiment. He didn't let it go, though. It'll always hurt. I can't undo it. But I can forgive.

It wasn't that the wound simply vanished. Such things don't just go away. It was the change in the feeling there that told him something was different. His acceptance, his forgiveness, was dulling the pain. Just a little, but it only needed to be a little.

The scream pierced his ears and mind. Henry's teary eyes opened. Uncle Charlie was gone while, behind him, another cry filled the alley. He glanced around.

The back road there was the sight of a familiar scene. Three rough men in urban wear, likely gang members, had a man pressed against the wall at the end of the alley. A fourth stood behind them, a hand holding a knife extended toward a screaming woman and crying child. A fist smashed into the cornered man's stomach and made him double over, at which point punches and kicks drove him to the ground. Shrieks in Spanish crossed Henry's ears, pleas for help.

As he expected, none came.

He stood there, transfixed for the moment. There were all sorts of reasons this could be happening. It could be a robbery, or extortion, or just thugs out to hurt people to gratify themselves. It was something that happened even in the nicest cities. That was just the way things were.

It shouldn't be, he thought to himself. But what can I do about it?

Across the decades, Lieutenant James Henry of the CDF answered, "You can stop them."

I'm outnumbered four to one and I've been drinking. I'll probably get killed. That won't change the galaxy.

Those words usually worked before. They gave him the approval to walk away.

Everyone walks away. It's so easy to. "It's not my problem." "It's not my job." "It's not my business." We ignore the pleas and mind our own business, whether it's a gang beating someone up, megacorps exploiting worlds, the League invading someone else. It's always someone else's problem. That's the problem with the galaxy. And it's not even cowardice. It's simple human nature to stand back and ignore it, since it's not happening to you. One person can't fix the world. Even if you stop this wrong, others will happen, and you can't stop them all. You're just one man.

Now the excuse felt hollow. Just one man? He'd seen what just one man, one woman, could do, if he or she were in the right place. He'd seen it in the war. He saw it on the Laffey, when Captain Maria Soto saved the ship and the crew at the cost of her own life. Miri herself once shifted the tide of the war, and just by her escape from the Kensington Star set in motion another defeat of the League's plans. Paulina Ascaro was, by force of will, restoring democratic government to Lusitania after decades of increasing authoritarian rule. Jules Rothbard made lives better just by standing at his pulpit performing service after service.

Not just those examples, though. His own examples stood ready. He'd given Tia a chance to rebuild her life and become the leader she was now revealing herself to be. He'd changed the lives of his entire crew at some point or another.

More than that, he'd had his own role in defeating the League at Pluto Base and Lusitania. He'd made the right tactical decisions, given the right orders. He'd found a way to turn a hostile Tash'vakal clan into an ally. He'd been there to arm the rebels on Monrovia, and on Exodus Station made the strategic decision that ensured Erhart's defeat.

"That's right, Jim," Charlie's voice said, although he couldn't see him. "We've all got that potential. But you, you've got it in spades. That's why you had to follow the path you did. God needed you in those places, to make everything better."

"Hey, pendejo!" The voice won his attention. It was one of the gang members involved in the beating. His presence in the alley was noticed. "Get out of here, unless you want some of this too!" He gestured toward the groaning man being beaten on.

Charlie's voice spoke again. "You thought God turned His back on us? He can't. He created us. We're a part of Him just as He's a part of us. It's why He does the things He does, even if we don't always understand why. He's trying to make us better without having to destroy what we are."

Henry felt those words fill him, just as his thoughts raced. Not at the challenge of the gang member, but at where all of his thoughts were leading him, and how wrong he'd been.

It wasn't that he couldn't change the galaxy. It just wasn't easy to change the galaxy. It took work, constant work, to make it better.

"Hey! Spacer! You wanna get cut!" the thug called out. He started to stomp toward Henry. "This is Vega business! Go away!"

I can't change what I've done before. My surrender, my apathy. None of it. I can just try to be better.

No, not just try. I will be better. I can't fix the galaxy if I ignore its problems.

"I said get the—"

"Leave them alone," Henry called out.

His voice carried. The beating stopped as the other gangsters turned to face him. One fired a phrase in Spanish at him, the intent behind it clear, given the angry snarl forming on the bearded face.

"You want an ass-kicking, offworlder?!" the thug closest to him demanded. "Or maybe you just want to be dead." He reached to the small of his back.

By then, Henry was already pulling his gun from his holster. The CP-2520 glinted in the early evening light of the alley as it rose. His finger went to the trigger as soon as the other man's gun revealed itself. The shot took the man in the right shoulder. He fell, crying out in shock, his gun falling to the ground as he did.

An angry shout echoed down the alley. The other gang members went for firearms.

Henry's arm moved from side to side, remaining steady the whole time. His finger stroked the trigger one, two, three times, each accompanied by the high-pitched thunder crack of the gun spitting charged particles from its barrel.

And, one by one, the gangsters went down.

The child and mother went to their father and husband's side, but even then their eyes and his own were focused on Henry, as were several in the road beyond. They stared in shock and surprise.

He shared it. He stared down at his gun hand. It didn't wobble, it didn't shake; it remained steady, as if he hadn't just gone through an emotional rollercoaster after imbibing several shots of uncut bourbon whiskey.

"Thank you." The husband of the family spoke English with an accent. His wife helped him up with his good arm while the other hung limply at his side. Blood still poured from his lips and nose. His eyes would undoubtedly swell nearly shut once the bruises started forming.

"It's fine."

The wife spoke in Spanish. Henry understood enough of it. She was worried that the rest of the gang would hear of this and come right after them.

"You should run, sir," the man said. "They'll come after you too now."

"You're still in danger?" Henry asked.

He nodded. "Wouldn't pay protection money, rallied my neighbors to refuse. This is payback."

And now they'll probably kill you to really send home the message. Henry regretted not having more than a shuttle, and certainly no permission from Captain Chagger to bring people to her ship. "Is there somewhere safe nearby? Somewhere you can stay where they can't come for you."

"They come everywhere," the child said..

"No, there is somewhere." The bloodied man nodded his head. "St. Francis. The Church can protect us until the police help."

Today wasn't a day for skepticism; otherwise, Henry would already be questioning how well a priest and his staff could stop a gang of criminals. "Then I'll take you there," Henry promised. "Lead the way."


Henry followed the family out of the alley and onto the back road. Toward one end was a cul-de-sac separating it from the main road in that direction; toward the other, a line of urban housing and roadside vendors leading toward the heart of the barrio.

"My name's James Henry," he said to the family.

The beating victim nodded, temporarily interrupting his wife's efforts to wipe the blood seeping from a gash on his forehead. "I am Tomas Perez. This is my wife Luz and my son Javier."

Luz Perez gave a disgruntled look at her husband that plainly said "Stop squirming." He obeyed.

"This the first time they came at you?" Henry asked.

Tomas shook his head. "No. But it's the first time I didn't have my weapon. We were attending a City Council; they don't let any weapons in. The Vegas ambushed us, brought us here for privacy. This is one of their neighborhoods."

That, Henry could believe. Already he noticed the various sets of eyes glancing their way. Furtive comments were being exchanged in quiet tones or spoken into active links. But nobody came to challenge them. Henry kept his CP-2520 out as a deterrent.

"So why did you do that?" asked Tomas.


"Challenge the Vegas. I know you're a spacer, but they can still kill you before you get to your ship."

"I saw a man being beaten to death in front of his wife and kid," Henry answered. "That's good enough reason to get involved. They wouldn't be the first criminal gang I've ticked off."

"So you go around to worlds, shooting gangs for hassling people?"

Henry shook his head. "No. Just had a change of heart is all."

"You were the next best thing to an angel from Heaven. Thank God you were there."

That sparked warmth in his heart. "Yeah, I thank God I was there too."

They came to an intersection. Tomas took them to the left. Henry's eyes cast about and noted that the interest in them hadn't wavered. Nobody was following them, exactly, but they were definitely being monitored. In front of them, a couple of unshaven men started to approach. Henry brought his gun up, pointing it skyward at first. He never had to level the weapon as the men in question retreated from their path.

"I'm scared, Papa," Javier murmured. "They're coming after us."

"I know." Despite the clear injury to his arm, Tomas drew his son closer to reassure him. "Just keep going, and be ready to run with Mama."

A couple of blocks down, they made a right. Henry could see the church ahead, at the end of this small road. Aircars lined both sides, but unlike the other roads, this was empty. Nobody walked the sidewalks, no cars drove by. The hairs on his neck stood up on end. "They're up this way," he said to the others. "Front doors are too open. Is there a side door?"

Tomas nodded. "It's not for normal public use, but they should answer it."

"Head that way when we get there. And don't look back."

Tomas started to protest, but his wife quieted him. That was to Henry's gratitude, as the man wasn't in any shape to help.

As they came to the end of the road, Henry found what he was expecting. A crowd of men were in front of the church. They wore the same crimson and gold coloring as the other gang members he'd noticed on the walk. Some had knives out, others were holding firearms of various kinds. Henry stopped in the middle of the road, noting the vehicles to either side. The Perez family remained behind him.

A bearded man stepped out from the group. His graying dark hair was pulled into a pony-tail, and his face was locked into a vicious snarl. His beard was nearly all gray. "I don't know who you are, spacer. But you shot my people. Before I kill you, I'll give you the chance to earn some mercy. Who do you work for?"

"Myself, usually." Henry smiled. "Right now, I suppose you could say I'm working for God too."

Despite the viciousness of his expression, the leader let out a belly laugh. Others in the gang joined in. "Someone's been in space a little too long, eh? Gone a little crazy, a little loco, from all the pretty stars!"

"Maybe I realized I was tired of seeing criminals beating people up."

"We're a neighborhood organization. We watch out for our people," the leader replied. "So we take collections. This man, he won't pay, won't pay to protect his business, his family, his neighborhood. And now, now you step in, think you have the right to meddle in other people's business."

"I've heard this all before," Henry replied. "The way I see it, people like you are parasites who rob and kill, and you only thrive when nobody's willing to stop you."

The air grew hot with imminent violence. He knew that living through the next five minutes, not to mention getting the family to safety, would require seizing the initiative and putting the gang on the backfoot. Make them react.

So he decided to make the first move.

Firing from the hip made accuracy nearly impossible. He could only guarantee he fired in a general direction, not a specific target. But by taking the shot, he also gained an element of surprise.

Said shot was also more successful than he imagined it'd be. Instead of hitting nothing, it grazed the hip of the gang leader. He cried out and toppled over.

The seconds of sheer shock gave Henry and the Perezes time to get to cover. Henry brought his gun up and moved to the sidewalk. He took careful aim at the Vegas he could see and squeezed the trigger as rapidly as he could. His first shot was a little off, but the following shots struck two targets. "This way!" he called out, moving down the sidewalk. The car they were crouching beside absorbed fire coming from the other direction, leaving only enemies in front of them to be a threat. When another Vega appeared, Henry fired off a shot on the fly. To his surprise, it took the foe down with a gut shot.

"We'll never get to the next one!" Tomas called out.

"I'll cover you, go!" Henry leaned over the hood and stroked the trigger as quickly as possible, not aiming at anything in particular.

With their leader in pain and already a few casualties in their midst, the Vegas weren't reacting with any coordination. Most took cover from Henry's fire, and of those who didn't, their fire focused on Henry—the actual threat with a gun—and not the unarmed family moving down to the next car.

Once they were safely in cover, Henry moved back into cover. The vehicle he was hiding behind absorbed the incoming energy pulses and bullets completely, but it wouldn't forever. Already its windshield was broken from repeated hits.

He dashed forward, firing blindly across his chest as he did. Bullets, plasma, and charged particle bursts surrounded him. He felt a sting on the back of his neck and a coal of hot pain on his lower leg, but nothing kept him from dashing the meter that separated one car from the other.

He got to the vehicle as a Vega rounded the corner ahead. The shaven young man raised a charged particle pistol with murder in his eyes. Henry squeezed the trigger immediately. His shot was low but still caught the thug in the chest. The other pistol went off, but with the attacker's arms flailing as he fell, it narrowly missed Luz. She shrieked in surprise at the bolt of sapphire energy that planted itself twenty centimeters from her nose and into the surface of the aircar they were in cover beside.

"There's no more cover ahead," Tomas said. Henry noted only the open street. "We'll never make it."

Henry popped out of cover to fire a couple shots. He barely made it back into cover before the return fire rained down on him. The Vegas were starting to recover. I'm almost out of time.

"You're sure you'll be safe if you enter the church?" Henry asked.

"We will," Tomas answered. "They wouldn't dare attack St. Francis."

Why wouldn't they? he wondered. But it was the best option of a lot of bad ones, it seemed. "Okay, at the count of three, run. Just run for the door. Can you do that?"

Tomas nodded. The beating hadn't damaged his legs, at least. He gripped the hand of his wife and, at a gesture, prompted her to take Javier's hand.

This shouldn't work, Henry thought. But I talked to my dead uncle today, and now I feel like anything will work. I'm not even afraid of dying. It's not just the whiskey… He shook his head once to focus his thoughts. "Okay… on my mark."

They stiffened, ready to run. Overhead, more weapons fire came.

"One… two… three."

Henry went first, pistol in both hands. He rose from cover over the hood and immediately found his weapon pointing at an advancing Vega. His finger stroked the trigger. A burst of blue light slammed into the man, sending him down. He swung his gun over toward the other Vegas and started firing. With another of their number down, the others were intimidated enough by his apparent marksmanship that many took cover.

With the rest of the fire converging on him, the Perez family ran for their lives, directly to the side of the church building across the street.

Henry should have returned to cover. Remaining exposed was suicide. But to do so, to let up his fire even an instant, would put the innocents he was trying to protect at risk of being gunned down. Until they were across the street, he had to remain where he was, firing his gun as quickly as his sore finger could manage.

The gang returned fire, but it wasn't coordinated. Some stayed in cover and fired wildly in his general direction. There was no attempt at suppressive fire, or alternating fire, simply random Vegas popping up to take a shot at him.

It was enough. He felt a sharp impact on his right side. His left hip burned hot at being grazed by plasma. Every instinct now screamed to get back into protective cover, but he ignored those instincts and kept firing.

"We're safe!" he heard Tomas scream over the gunfire. He ducked into cover and glanced toward the other side of the street. The family was already approaching the side door. In seconds, they would be inside.

"Would someone kill that man already?!" screamed the wounded Vega leader. "He's just one loco spacer! Kill that bastard!"

Henry held his gun up over the hood and took a few more shots. Volumes of fire forced him back down. With their leader's angry orders as a prod, the Vegas were finally starting to rally. Every time he took a shot at them, they returned fire en masse, and they were getting closer with each moment. He was going to be outflanked within the minute.

The doors to the church opened.

Henry caught glimpses of what came through as he returned fire. He was treated to the sight of nuns stepping out onto the church steps. Each had a blue veil marked with red stones on her head, giving it the look of a helmet. The rest of their habits were gray and white.

On the third viewing, Henry realized what he was looking at. Their habits weren't normal nun habits at all, but looked more like urban military BDUs.

And they each had a rifle.

When the weapons came up, they came up with a precision fitting the TCMC. The sharp cracks of their weapons weren't quite the right pitch to be ballistic firearms.

Wait. Those are stun bolts, Henry realized.

Their lack of lethality wasn't immediately obvious to the Vegas. Being taken under fire from what they'd assumed was a secure flank quickly told in the number of them that hit the street face down. The others scrambled for cover. Not just cover, but escape. They'd had enough.

Not all ran, though. The Vega leader rolled over the hood of the aircar and faced Henry directly, his face contorted in rage. "Die, damn you!" he shrieked while his weapon raised toward Henry.

It was too close for Henry to shoot first. To avoid a fatal shot, he had just one option, and he took it instinctively. He put all of his power in his legs and threw himself into the Vega. The two fell to the street while the Vega's gun went off, striking the car. Pain shot through Henry's hand—the Vega landed directly on it, crushing it between their bodies and the concrete of the sidewalk—and he let go of his pistol.

Henry took an elbow to the jaw as soon as they landed. This shifted his balance enough to give the Vega leverage to get the weapon back up. He caught it just before the Vega could press it into his belly. The Vega's hot breath blasted Henry's face while they struggled for control of the gun.

With his left hand having just enough leverage to hold the other man's gun away, Henry brought his right elbow up. He smashed the bone into the Vega's nose once, twice, three times, each blow with increasing power until the other man's nose snapped. The Vega leader howled at the pain. His struggling slackened, allowing Henry to bring his right fist back for a strong punch to the Vega's face.

The gang leader's eyes rolled into the back of his head. He was out like a light.

Breathing hard, his right hand throbbing with the pain of its earlier crushing and the blow that ended the fight, Henry got to his feet. He kicked the gun away from the Vega and retrieved his own from under the man's side. He held it, hand finally shaking, as he rose to his full height.

The Vegas littered the street and sidewalks. Standing over them were the armed women who emerged from the church. Some of the nuns kept their weapons at ready stance while the others disarmed their opponents.

One of the nuns approached. She looked to be almost his age, with copper-toned skin and deep brown eyes. "We can tend to your injuries inside," she said in heavily-accented English. The accent sounded Brasilian or Lusitanian, not Spanish.

Henry looked down at himself. While he hadn't suffered any severe wounds, he was bleeding from his side where a bullet had ripped through his flesh. There was a plasma burn on his hip as well, his crushed right hand, and the other injuries from glancing shots he'd taken. Each hurt in its own way, adding to his growing fatigue as the adrenaline rush faded. He nodded in acceptance.

The nun led him through the battle to the threshold of the church. St. Francis was like any Catholic church he'd seen in his time, which was admittedly not many. Stained glass displays, a confessional to the side, the votive altar for private prayers nearby. A large cross stood behind the pulpit.

The Perezes were in the pews. Their eyes widened at the sight of him, although Tomas was quickly diverted by a conventionally-dressed nun in a black and white habit and wimple so she could continue tending his injuries. Other nuns of the same outfits were nearby with refreshments for the frightened family.

Henry noticed movement from the other aisle. An old woman approached, her weathered face framed by the same white and blue veil with red stones, giving it the appearance of being a helmet instead of a veil. Her eyes met Henry's and tightened with recognition. "Captain James Henry of the Shadow Wolf, yes?" Her accent was a softer version of the nun who escorted him in.

"Formerly," he corrected. "Lost my ship."

"Ah." She nodded. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Do we know each other?" he asked.

"No, but we know of you," she replied. "You brought dearly-needed supplies to our efforts on Monrovia."

He blinked at that. "So you're…?"

"Yes." She smiled slightly, giving a gentle tone to her weathered face. "I am Sara Sarno, Mother Superior of the Little Sisters of Divine Recompense. A pleasure to make your acquaintance at last, Captain Henry."


One of the Little Sisters' medics tended to Henry's wounds while he sat at the front pew of the church. Sarno sat opposite him on the steps leading up to the pulpit. "For a man who tried to fight at least a dozen of the Vegas, you are remarkably well-off," Sarno noted.

"There's probably more of them." Henry winced slightly at the slight sting of antiseptic on his side. "The Perezes, they said the church could protect them. This won't cause them any problems?"

"We have already called the police," Sarno said. "Father Luis is a personal friend of mine and of the local commissioner. The Vegas will be dealt with." She noted the uncertainty Henry knew was showing on his face. "You're not convinced?"

"I've been to too many worlds where the local police either can't or won't deal with the gangs."

"Well, rest assured this will be an exception." Sarno settled her hands together, propping her arms against a covered knee. "You saved Tomas Perez's life, at the very least. They have been quite clear on your bravery in this matter. They can be forgiven for overlooking how reckless it sounds."

"I suppose reckless fits."

"That you're still alive may be a miracle in and of itself. Tell me, why did you involve yourself when no others would?"

Henry winced once more at the sting in his side. The pain helped him focus his words. "Because someone has to do the right thing. It's the only way to make the galaxy a better place."

"Oh?" Sarno's smile turned bemused. "This from the man who took triple pay at Monrovia?"

His response was a slight grin. "Yeah, I've been quite the mercenary. How the world seemed to work in my eyes for a long time. Too long."


"All these years out here in Neutral Space, on all these worlds with pirates and criminals and slavers, I got used to seeing this kind of thing. People being abused, suffering at the hands of someone more powerful than they were." Years of regret filled his own voice. "I always had a part of me that wanted to do something about it. Every time, my response was 'I can't change the galaxy.'" He shook his head. "I heard it from others too. 'It's just how things are.' Well, I can't live like that anymore."

"So it seems."

"If the galaxy's going to be a better place, I've got to step up. We all do, hoping we inspire others to follow." He glanced back to where the Perez family were seated. While Tomas and Luz were comforting one another, little Javier had his attention toward the front of the church. Admiration glittered in the boy's eyes.

"Well put, Captain." Sarno stood and came over to sit beside him. "I know what it's like to see people hurt and to want to act to help them." She sniffed the air. "You must be quite capable to fight so well in your state."

"As in?"

"As in you're at least partially drunk. I can smell the whiskey… bourbon?" The resignation on his face was her answer. "I've heard it said that a little liquor bolsters courage. You overdid it a little. But I'm not one to judge, Captain." Her smile turned wistful. "An old friend of mine made me partial to Scotch."

"Yeah, I had a few shots before this started. Well, more than a few, if I'm being honest."

Her hazel eyes glinted thoughtfully. "I'd almost think it a miracle that you managed to fight your way through the Vegas with that much in you."

The image of Uncle Charlie, hale and hearty, came to his mind. He nodded at her words. "Today's a day for miracles, I guess."

"Oh? Experienced one, have you?"

He nodded. "Maybe. I… yes, I think I did."

"I can get you in touch with a good investigator if you want to be sure. The Church is serious about these things, for obvious reasons."

"I know you are. But this was personal. And, well, I'm not Catholic."

"Protestant, then?"

"Unified Methodist."

"Ah. Well, no one's perfect." The remark was made with a teasing grin. "It's all right. Sometimes miracles are private. It's His way."

"Yeah, it is." Henry spoke those words and felt a conviction he'd thought lost years ago. "I needed it. I've spent the past sixteen years without faith."

"A long time for a soul to be lost. I'm happy for you to have found your way again." There was great warmth in her words.

The front doors to the church opened. They turned to face the new arrivals. Seeing Tia, Oskar, and Vidia stepping in was a welcome sight, if not surprising. "I'm down here," he called out.

They rushed toward the front of the church, drawing a couple of displeased looks from the nuns still in the room at the lack of decorum. Henry noted they were fully armed and that Oskar had a first aid kit from the Majha with him. "We came looking for you," Tia said. "I was a little surprised to hear you got involved in a firefight with an entire criminal gang."

"How'd you find out?"

"It seems that everyone in the city knows, Captain," Vidia said. "They said ya fought off an entire chapter of Vegas."

"I think I did." Henry gestured toward Sarno. "This is Mother Superior Sara Sarno of the Little Sisters; you might remember them from Monrovia." He turned back to face her, jostling the impatient nun-medic tending to one of his other injuries. "Mother Sarno, this is my First Mate Tia Nguyen, our physician Doctor Oskar Kiderlein, and Vidiadhar Andrews, Vidia for short."

He couldn't miss the sudden glint that formed in Tia's eye. Nor did Sarno. She wanted allies, he thought. Now I've led her right to them. His mouth curled into a slight smile. He works in mysterious ways, indeed…

Vidia was the first to openly react, nodding his head respectfully. "Mother Sarno, a pleasure ta meet ya."

"Mister Andrews, the pleasure is also mine," she replied. "As it is to meet the rest of you. Whatever your motives, we owe you greatly for your assistance on Monrovia."

"What was going on there was unconscionable," Oskar said. "I wish we could have stayed and provided further aid."

"What's done is done, Doctor." Sarno directed her attention to Henry. "You mentioned that you lost your ship?"

Henry nodded. A different pain stabbed him through the heart. "And my best friend, Felix. He flew her into a League destroyer so we could escape on another ship."

Sarno nodded and made the sign of the Cross, murmuring a prayer for the departed as she did. The medic working on Henry repeated the action a moment later, once her hand was free. The old Mother's brow furrowed. "How long ago was this? We're over twenty jumps from the nearest League colony."

"It was in my home system," Tia said. "Hestia."

Concern flashed through those strong hazel eyes. "A League destroyer, this far into Neutral Space? What's been happening?"

"You haven't heard?" Henry asked.

"I've been busy with local matters."

"Well, the short version is that we brought a team from CDF Intelligence to Hestia to investigate League ties to Rigault Heavy Industries, and more importantly, because the HBC had Tia kidnapped." Memories of what they found on Hestia rippled through him, filling him with disgust. "They were experimenting on her and other Hestians. We got them out, but a League destroyer jumped in ahead of us. The Shadow Wolf was crippled fighting her, so Felix flew her into the destroyer while we escaped."

Now Sarno was frowning. "The League is working with Rigault and the HBC? Why?"

"Various projects, we're still going through the data. But what they were doing to Tia and the others…"

Tia's eyes still had that particular glint in them. For the moment, she averted them, allowing her to kneel beside them and expose the back of her neck. Oskar's handiwork was as good as always, but there was no ignoring the scarring of the surgeries done there. "Because they put a thing in my neck to control me," Tia hissed.

"It was some kind of remote control device for human bodies." Henry shook his head. "I saw the controller myself. 'Neuro Control' or something. It lets them take remote control of people."

Nearby, Oskar paled as well. "I know the device from personal experience," he said. "I removed it from Tia and many other Hestians. They were the lucky ones, as many more have suffered crippling and sometimes permanent neurological damage from the testing."

Tia turned back to face Sarno, whose face turned white as the implications of Oskar's words and Tia's own hit home. "It's like having your mind cut off from your body. It moves no matter what you want it to do," Tia explained. Her voice trembled with the memory. "Antoine Rigault's going to force every Hestian to accept one or starve. The League wants to go even further; they want to control people's thoughts with it."

"Mother of God," Sarno gasped. "Has the Coalition been informed?"

"We transmitted the data, but Rigault got there first with the League's help. They're claiming this was a Coalition black op to support 'terrorism' and attack business partners of the League."

Sarno nodded slowly. "Clever. They know Rhodes well. It plays in to her suspicions."

"The CDF Intelligence people have been disavowed. We can't even go into Coalition space without risking arrest," Henry said. "That's why we're here."

"That, and another reason." Now Tia's eyes focused intently on Sarno's. "Which is why I have a question to ask you, Mother Superior."

"Yes, Miss Nguyen?"

"Are the Little Sisters available for a contract? Because I want to hire them."

"Hire us?" Sarno's eyes narrowed. "For what?"

"I'd like to hire you to help liberate my people from the HBC."

"You mean a repeat of what we did on Monrovia? A revolution?" Now Sarno's voice hardened as well, not out of harshness, but understanding.

"Exactly. Support my people in a revolution against the megacorps," Tia pleaded. "And together we can stop Rigault and the League from finishing their device."

A change gripped Sarno. She didn't entirely cease being the gentle-looking elderly nun, but now steel shone in her eyes and her back straightened, as if the military commander within was coming to the fore. "Then we had best continue this conversation privately, Miss Nguyen, Captain Henry." She stood. "This way, please."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The four followed Sarno into one of the church offices. The holos and photos were clearly those of the office's usual occupant, although that didn't keep Sarno from taking a seat at the desk. "St. Francis in San Tomas Correlo contains a chapter house of our order," she explained. "It is one of our recruiting stations in Neutral Space."

"So you're not all ex-CDF?" asked Tia.

"No, Miss Nguyen. While those who were in the Coalition military are certainly a majority of our order, there are many who come from other worlds. Not all fight, however, but serve as support to those who do." Sarno folded her hands on the desk. "As for your request, you are aware of our rules?"

"I know you're willing to fight for good causes."

"We are, but we do not just fight. For one thing, unless circumstances demand otherwise, it is always our goal to preserve life. We employ stun bolts and other non-lethal means of subduing those we fight. Lethal force is used only if absolutely necessary."

Tia nodded. "I understand, and I accept that's how you fight. I heard the reports from Monrovia, the same as everyone. That's why I want your help."

"I have concerns." Sarno's eyes locked on to Tia's. "Miss Nguyen, we're familiar with the kind of revolution you espouse. The history of said revolutions is not a kind one. Often, it ends with a dictatorship hurting and killing their own people. It would be a fundamental violation of our mission to be responsible for such an outcome."

Henry glanced toward Tia. He recalled how often Felix goaded her with a similar argument, that her life's work would result in murderous dictatorship, and she never took it well. He half-expected her to bitterly reject Sarno's words.

Tia gritted her teeth and nodded. "It's true. It's easy for any revolution, any movement, to become as oppressive as those they overthrow. But I don't want power; I want my people to be free."

"Even if they repudiate the ideology you hold true?"

"Yes, even so," she said. "The Hestian Workers' Party can stand for election like any other party and make our case to our people. The important part is to get the megacorps out. Right now, Mother Sarno, they have my people under a dictatorship of wealth. My people had our entire world stolen. They force us to work to loot our own world for their riches, they don't even let us grow enough food so they can more easily control us!" Her voice grew in volume and passion. "We're paid in company scrip that we can only spend in company stores, where everything is priced to keep our families on the edge of starvation. And at the slightest provocation, even just asking for better conditions, we're fired and blacklisted and left to starve. If we try to grow our own food anyway, we're arrested and forced into penal labor. The same thing happens to anyone trying to encourage striking or collective action of any kind. They call us 'saboteurs' and send us into forced labor in mines, where we're worked to death. If the accidents or toxic gas exposure doesn’t kill us first."

Sarno's expression soured. "I've never been to Hestia," she admitted. "I never heard it was that bad."

"The Hestian Business Council spends millions to keep off-world press from learning the extent of it," Henry replied. "But I've visited the world myself, just before I met Tia. They treat her people like scum, like third-class citizens."

"They stole our world from us generations ago through deceit and trickery, then bribery, and now they use it as an excuse to treat us like slaves," Tia insisted. "Now they're going to make us literal slaves. We won't have the slightest hope of rebellion once the implants are in our necks. They'll just use us as drones."

The passion in Tia's voice didn't faze Sarno. She kept a calm expression throughout. When Tia ended her argument, Sarno nodded quietly. "I recognize the injustice your people suffer under. This neural control device sickens me with its existence. Can it be used on such a scale as to enslave a planet?"

Oskar answered first. "It can, Mother Superior," he said.

There was clear interest in her eyes at Oskar's remark, but Sarno was quick to return her attention to Tia. "This leaves the matter of practicality, Miss Nguyen. Even if I were to bring the majority of my order to the fight, seizing a world will be difficult. We need allies, including your own forces. What kind of forces are they? What weapons do your revolutionaries have available?"

"We have hidden caches in several cities and important regions," Tia explained. "Infantry weapons and some crew-served weapons."

"What about heavy weapons? Anti-armor rifles and ammunition?"

"Some, I'm told." Seeing the uncertainty in Sarno's eyes, Tia added, "I've been an exile for over a decade, Mother. I have not seen these caches personally. I am trusting in my comrades' word. They've been rebuilding arms caches for years."

"Very well, what about armor? And how well prepared are they for a sustained campaign, or must this be a single decisive strike?"

"Some combat armor, I'm told, and lightweight tactical suits. We would have to seize armored vehicles and tanks in the opening strike. As for a campaign, we can embark on fighting for several weeks if necessary, although hopefully not longer than one or two weeks."

Sarno sighed deeply. "You may be able to wage a guerrilla war, but against corporate security forces with military hardware, you will not fare so well. The League may even intervene directly. If so, their field forces would easily overwhelm such an army. To guarantee a successful campaign, I will need to call in most of the order, including our fleet. The cost will be great, and more importantly, far beyond whatever means your organization can afford."

"We can pay, we will pay, if you help. I promise." Tia leaned in on the desk. "I'm begging you, for the sake of my people, don't turn us away!"

A weary sigh came from the old woman. Her hand reached for the rosary in her cuff. "I will have to pray on this," she said. "I can't give you anything more at the moment. We'll exchange link codes and I'll contact you once I've made a decision."

Given the way Tia hung over the desk, Henry could see she was aching to push her case. Ultimately, she sighed and nodded. "Okay. We'll be going, then." She glanced at him. "We still have to see about a replacement ship after all."

"Find Ramon Mendoza's shop near the spaceport," Sarno said softly. "Mendoza is the least likely to cheat you, and he has a good selection. As good as one you'll find in San Tomas anyway."

"Thank you, Mother Superior." Henry turned to the office exit and held it, waiting for the others to step out with him. He saw the quiet frustration and worry on Tia's face, but it hadn't yet turned to despair. He clapped her on the shoulder as they arrived at the door. "We'll get this done," he promised her. "Have faith."

She gave him a bewildered look but said nothing as they exited the office.


While the others left the church, Oskar chose to remain behind. His initial intention was to offer his services to the beating victim Captain Henry helped, but one of the nuns informed him that a doctor was already present and tending to him in one of the church's spare bedrooms.

Given the circumstances, leaving by himself seemed dangerous. Oskar took a seat in one of the side pews, near the votive altar. He pulled out his link to call the others, only to hold off before transmitting. Something about the silence of this place felt soothing. He enjoyed that.

While the Society encouraged little in the way of historical education, at least concerning eras before the Society's rule was established on Earth, Oskar knew his ancestors once worshipped in churches similar to St. Francis. Seeing one now made him wonder, for the first time, how many of his predecessors' relatives chose exile to space colonies, even to Sagittarius, over giving up the comforts of their faith.

There was movement beside him. Sarno walked past and knelt before the votive altar. She lit a few candles before she clasped her hands together below her chin. The gentle candlelight illuminating her reflected the metal in her hands. From experience, Oskar imagined it was a crucifix.

While she prayed quietly in a language that he thought sounded Lusitanian, his own mind wandered. The first time he'd seen a crucifix was at the New Hope prison camp. A Coalition prisoner of war managed to smuggle in his necklace by swallowing it. Unfortunately for him, Oskar found the metal in his stomach during his admission scans and, at the orders of the Social Defense Militia officers in charge, he force-fed the man a purgative agent that made him vomit up the cherished item. Oskar remembered the way the little golden statute glittered despite the effluvia coating it. He'd held it for just a few seconds before an angry camp officer tore it from his hand and had it cast into the camp incinerator.

That memory easily led to others like it. Guilt filled him at his minor role in such abuses. More came as he considered how the neuro control interface began as his project to bring healing, to remind himself he was a doctor meant to make people better, not simply to propagate suffering by curing the injuries and wounds of camp prisoners who defied socialization. He recalled deep conversations with Jan about the atrocities they were watching, and whether or not it made a farce of the Society's ideals. Words that might have landed him in a camp himself had they been repeated to a Social Defense officer, or even worse, an Internal Security officer.

You never betrayed those words, Jan. I trusted you for that. I trusted you until you took my work and twisted it.

"You look like a man wrestling with the past," said Sarno.

Her words brought his attention to her. She was no longer kneeling at the altar but sitting beside him. Her crucifix glittered in the light from within her fingers.

"I have much to wrestle with," he said.

"Many of us do, Doctor." Sarno set her hands together. "You're a League defector, yes?'

He nodded. "I will not hide it."

"I understand why you would. The League wishes you dead and many others would wish you harm."

"I've learned to accept my life as a fugitive. Captain Henry has been generous."

"So he has." Sarno placed her hands on her knees, leaving her necklace alone for the moment. "Now that you have turned your back on the society you were raised to cherish, what belief do you have in your life now?"

"My belief in Humanity, and my duty as a doctor to heal," Oskar answered.

"But you remain an atheist?"

"I do." He gestured around them. "I appreciate that this brings much comfort and consolation to those who believe, but even after learning how religions truly work, I have no faith in their truth. The universe is the universe, to me. I mean no offense, of course."

"None is taken, Doctor. For a man raised in the heart of the League, you are by comparison a spiritual man simply to say such things." She smiled gently. "Whatever you believe, for you to have such compassion despite the League's inhumanity means God has already touched your heart. In time, I believe you will accept faith into your life, with our Church or another."

Oskar did not share that belief, nor could he hide that, but it did nothing to dent her smile. He chose to reply with a neutral, "Perhaps."

He wondered if she would continue on this course. Early on, Vidia had sometimes pushed the envelope of his patience, so he was familiar with the need of the fervent believer to convert. But when she spoke, he found himself wishing she'd done so. "You clearly had a role in this 'neural control device,' Doctor. I can see it troubles you."

"Profoundly," he confessed. "Since I came to Sagittarius, most of my medical work has been in the camps. Healing the broken bones and cuts of the inmates there, seeing them die slowly from malnutrition when they refused to work, or could not work. I was not ready to see our people act like that toward other humans. We were supposed to be liberating people, not tormenting them." He couldn't hold back his tears as the guilt filled him. "I was desperate to be a real doctor, to heal meaningfully, not to mend wounds that cruelty would inevitably re-open. So I began research into a device that would help people with lost or damaged limbs. We don't have the means to clone replacement limbs like people in Sagittarius do. I thought I could make a cheaper alternative to help people. The neural interface would wirelessly connect a functioning brain to artificial prosthetics, bypassing damaged or degenerated nerves."

"I think I understand," said Sarno. "Someone figured out that it could work both ways?"

"Yes. My mentor came to believe the interface could be turned in the opposite direction. Instead of a brain remotely controlling a machine, a machine could remotely control a brain." Oskar shook his head. "I begged him not to do it. That it was a travesty. It would reduce people to automatons. But he wouldn't listen. He saw it as a way to make socialization camps unnecessary. He wants to plant the device in people and make anti-Social thinking impossible. He was convinced it would result in an end to suffering. An end to the cruelty."

Sarno pursed her lips. "'The road to hell is paved by good intentions,'" she quoted.

Oskar knew enough to recognize the reference. "I… maybe I should have killed him," he stammered, the tears in his eyes flowing ever more greatly. "I had him at my mercy the day I defected. He was sedated, unconscious. Instead, I destroyed our notes, the test implant, the tooling for it. I set him back to the start, and without my input this time. I thought I made it impossible for him to resume, that he would just give up. But I was wrong. I was wrong. I… I could have ended this for good if I'd just pulled the trigger!"

The guilt was too much. Oskar broke down sobbing.

A hand touched his. Through his sobs, he heard Sarno speak again. "You can't blame yourself for the sins of another, Doctor. That day, you chose to be a healer and did not kill a helpless man. And you were right to make that choice. Life is precious. It should never be taken lightly."

Oskar drew in a breath to bring his weeping under control. It didn't entirely work, but he managed to speak. "It is precious. I…" His mind flashed back to the day of the Pluto Base attack, when he was forced to shoot a League crewman to protect his comrades. Fights with pirates where he manned one of the turrets and blew their fighters to pieces, killing the pilots inside. "...but I am not innocent of shedding blood. Not anymore. And because I did not shed blood that day, innocent people have suffered and died. Even more will, I fear, unless we stop Jan."

"I pray we will find a way," she answered.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The starship dealer Mendoza kept an open yard within the spaceport's launch airspace. It was like any such dealer Henry encountered throughout his spacer career. A central building to house the dealer office and facilities stood in one corner while spacecraft of various sizes abounded in the yard.

Most of the ships were little more than intrasystem haulers or cargo shuttles. If they had Lawrence drives, they were short-ranged models only good for jumping to the nearest star systems, and were far too small for his purpose.

Four ships caught his eye. One was a Holden-Nagata Mark IV, meaning it had a similar design to the Shadow Wolf. He and Tia shared a forlorn glance, remembering their lost ship. "Mark IVs had what, GXR-2500s?"

"No, Mark V was the first model with the GXR series," he replied. "Mark IVs still use BPRs."

Her face twisted in disgust. "Those things. I remember Pieter ranting about them. Definitely out."

The next two ships quickly proved undesirable due to visible hull damage. It was only the last ship that caught their eye. It was wider than the Shadow Wolf was without being shorter. Eight holds jutted out from the sides of the ship to touch the ground, four per side, and two ski rail legs held the vessel's center up when landed.

"Well, that's a classic," Tia remarked. "Auber-Eisenburg Mark V."

"Definitely. And she looks refurbished."

They walked along the one-hundred-and-forty meter length of the Auber-Eisenburg. Henry noted no sign of major hull damage or even a hull breach. Her rear drives were arranged in a curving line of five nozzles—three upper and two lower—that weren't quite two rows without being evenly lined like the Shadow Wolf's four GXRs. "What do you think? GXR-5000s?"

"Definitely the nozzles for 'em."

By this time, their presence was noted in the dwindling sunlight. A portly man of olive complexion bounded up. He had a wispy beard on his round, wide face. "Ah, good day to you! Here to shop, I hope?"

"I need a new ship." Henry still ached having to say that. "Got a price?"

"Oh, a lot of ship for two," the man said. "I've got a nice two-man cargo hauler that should—"

"We've got an experienced spacer crew waiting for their new ship," Tia said sharply. "This is the one we want."

"Mendoza, right?" When the man nodded, Henry said, "Mother Sarno recommended you. That's why we're here."

The gregarious salesman vanished. The man let out a sigh. "Well, if you're mixed up with her, I suppose we should get to business. She's a good ship, probably the best used vessel on planet. I can't part with her for less than a hundred million. Coalition."

Henry exchanged a glance with Tia. They barely had half of that in their operating account, and he doubted Chagger had the remaining deficit. He doubted even Sarno could help there. "You offer payments?"

"Ha!" The man's voice was a bark. "I'm not about to spend the money to send a repo crew halfway across the arm to hunt her down if you short me. A hundred million, up front, or she doesn't fly. And judging by the look on your faces, you don't have the cash. So how about you aim your sights a little more realistically? I've got three other medium haulers—"

"—and two of them need at least a week of major hull repair," Henry finished for him. "And given the state of their hulls, I'm sure we'll find structure damage."

"Then how about my Holden-Nagata Mark IV? Forty million."

Tia shook her head. "This ship's too pricey for most of the traffic through here," she observed. "However you got her, I'm betting you don't have anyone biting on her. Especially not for a hundred million. Even the planetary government would have trouble paying that much. So we'll give you 45 million for the ship as-is and tell everyone how reasonable and honest you were. Drum up business for you." Tia smiled at him. "That's useful, isn't it?"

"Certainly from you, senora," Mendoza said pleasantly. "But I'm afraid that's still too low. Sixty-five, and that's the final offer."

They'd clearly pushed him to his limit. There wouldn't be further reductions. "We'll need to consider it," Henry said. He kept his tone careful. "You'll have our answer soon."

He was ready for Mendoza to give a "now or never" ultimatum. Instead, the response was a nod. "I can do that. But I won't reserve the ship. A better offer comes, I sell."

"Right." Henry nodded to Tia. "Let's go discuss it with the others."

They walked away, leaving Mendoza to return to his office. Once he was out of earshot, Tia was quick to make the obvious point. "We're still at least fifteen million short. And I don't see any bank loaning us for a second-hand sale like this."

"Nope," Henry agreed.

"It's a shame if we have to settle for that Holden-Nagata," she said. "The Auber-Eisenburg has a lot of room for smuggling. We could bring in heavier weapons and gear for the revolutionary cadres."

"Which would also cost a lot of money," Henry reminded her. "Right now, we have to face the facts. If we're going to pull this off, we need allies."

"And you're ready to try?" Tia asked. "Just go in and risk everything?"

"I am. I'm damn tired of seeing the galaxy like it is. It's time to do something about it." Henry's voice didn't waver as he said those words. "But I'm not out to throw our lives away either. If we do this, I want our best shot at winning. That means we reach out to our allies in Neutral Space. We gather as many as we can."

"I've already advised Chagger to send the data on to Cyrilgrad and Trinidad Station. Maybe if they pitch in, we can even get that ship."

"Maybe. And we definitely need the Sisters on board."

Tia's link chimed. She held it up and accepted the call. "I'm here."

"Miss Nguyen, you should get back up here as quickly as possible," Chagger said. "We've found something in the captured data you need to see."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Vidia was waiting when Tia and Henry left the Mendoza lot. It was clear he was curious, but he said nothing while turning back on the engine of their rented car. It was a short drive to pick up Oskar at St. Francis and return to their shuttles. Once they were back aboard, Tia and Henry headed straight for the officer's wardroom on the Majha while Oskar went to resume operations on the liberated Hestian test subjects.

Kaiya was waiting with Major Wu, Linh, and Miri. Yanik stood quietly in a corner. "What did you find?" Tia asked, curious as to what the Majha captain called them back up for.

"There is more to the alliance between Rigault and the League than we imagined," Miri said. With a tap of her hand on the holo display, she cycled several electronic documents around. "The neural control device is a part of a larger matter."

Tia got close enough to read the documents. "Looks like various ores and metals, and some refined alloys. Why would Rigault need more?"

"It's not just metals and alloys, Miss Nguyen," Kaiya said. "The listed elemental makeup means this is for star vessel construction. Military vessels, to be exact."

"Rigault's going into warship construction?" Tia was surprised at that. "The HBC's mutual cooperation relies on their members reducing competition by working in different markets. Fubuki does this work. Rigault's about heavy industrial equipment; they only produce small arms and support equipment in their war industries."

"That would explain why they need these alloys from the League," Miri said. "They can't manufacture them on their own normally."

"The League's been behind us in technology for decades. Why would Rigault go to them?"

Miri gave Wu an immediate answer. "One of the few areas the League's caught up in is metallurgy and starship alloys. These days, their armor and hull is just as good as Coalition sources. It's in other technologies they've remained behind."

Linh cycled the documents. "Not only has he received the materials for ships, he's already built some of them."

The design blueprints were not in-depth, but they made clear what was being built. The ship wasn't just a cruiser, it was a heavy unit. More importantly, the design aesthetic, while unique, had more in common with Coalition ship design than League.

"That's not right." Henry was reading the offered schematics. "These things have mounted neutron cannons. That's Coalition tech."

"Is someone from the Coalition arming them?" Tia asked Kaiya This doesn't make sense. The Coalition's never worked well with the megacorps. Why help?

"Rogue defense contractors." Kaiya's voice vibrated with anger. "Including Kalling, until recently."

"Of course it has to be them," Tia said, glancing at Henry. He didn't seem perturbed, given his history with the company.

Miri brought up a document. "Rigault's been paying them handsomely for very cheap materials, those allowed for export under the Coalition's wartime regulations."

"A cover."

"The main power sources are proton fusion cores." Linh pointed to the listing. "That's Matrinid technology. The most advanced fusion core tech around, and the best power supply until Doctor Hayworth completed the anti-matter reactor project. And the turreted cannons are muonic weapons. More Matrinid tech."

"Coalition and Matrinid technology." Henry kept scanning the documents too. "All in one hull. Considering the size and armament, this thing's a fleet cruiser. Ignoring the relative lack of missile armament, it's got the firepower to match most of the Coalition's largest cruisers."

"What does a Neutral Space megacorp need with that much firepower?"

Tia started sifting through the documents herself. Most were work orders for the cruisers and following classes of ships using the same technology. "How is he affording all of this?" Tia wondered aloud. "This is extravagant for a megacorp, even for their own security fleets."

Miri provided an immediate answer. "My best guess is that Rigault's severely overstretched their financial resources."

Tia felt flummoxed. Something wasn't right with this picture. "That doesn't make sense. They're capitalists. Profit is what they want. What kind of profit will this make them?"

"Maybe they intend to offer them to Neutral Space governments?" Wu ventured. "I'm not a ship driver, I mean, but these ships look good enough for CDF service. I'm betting only the new antimatter-powered fleet cruisers can outperform them."

Tia's efforts were finally rewarded. She found a document stamped with Antoine Rigault's name and header. It was a defense of the ships written to the company CEO, Rene Rigault. She read it. "That's where the profit is."

Henry followed her eyes. "Where?" The others were clearly just as interested.

"Rigault's got four of these things already built. He's planning on using them to compel a number of mineral rich Neutral Space worlds into signing contracts with Rigault." Tia frowned. "The ships are for extortion. He's intending to take out their shipping. To blockade them."

Linh read the document too. "The worlds in question aren't among major trade routes, and don't have strong relations with major worlds. This is overkill."

"Best way to secure a quick surrender," Henry noted. "And I don't think there's anything in Neutral Space that could fight one of these things. Even the two or three dreadnoughts in service, like that Lusitanian one, are all Saurian War surplus. These things would run circles around them and rip them to pieces."

"This is too much effort for just that," Tia insisted. "There's probably more, just not on this document. With those ships and a supporting fleet, Rigault will be the top military power in Neutral Space. They can loot any planet they want. Enslave anyone. Especially if they start sticking that implant into everyone else."

"Can we even hope to destroy them without Coalition help?" Kaiya asked.

"No. But we might not need to."

Tia joined the others in looking at Henry, who was grinning. "We need heavy weapons, right? And air cover would be nice. I say we hit the fleet and steal it."

"I doubt that'll be any easier," Wu said.

"They're still working them up, right?" Henry indicated one of the documents, showing a report of shakedown status. "If we get enough people on the station they're keeping them docked at, we could overwhelm the garrison and seize those ships for ourselves. At the very least, we could sabotage them so they can't be turned on us."

"A sound plan, but we're short on manpower," Kaiya said. "I don't have the excess crew to man all of those ships. Even one would be a challenge, and that's with your Hestians, Miss Nguyen, and your crew, Captain Henry. Sabotaging the vessels may be our only viable course of action."

"True. But these ships could also help us if we find another League ship coming in. Or more." Henry gestured to the documents hanging in the air between them. "Look at all this effort they've thrown into it, and they've already lost one destroyer. You really think they're just going to sit back and risk something happening to this God-awful project?"

"Likely not, but that won’t solve our manpower problems."

"Most of the Hestians will be more than ready to work in any fashion we ask them to," Tia said. "The only ones I can't speak for already are those still recovering from the device. If we get enough of the Sisters to join in, maybe we can make Captain Henry's idea work."

Kaiya's link activated before another word could be said. She fired off a rapid affirmation in Punjabi, receiving a report in the same language. "A ship entering orbit has asked to speak with the Shadow Wolf crew."

Tia felt wary at that development. "What kind of ship?"

"A cruiser yacht of some kind, a big one," replied Kaiya. "It identified itself as the Vesta. Apparently, the owner knows you by name."

"He would," Henry said, glancing uncomfortably at Tia. "In the ancient era on Earth, 'Vesta' was the Roman version of the goddess Hestia."

"So it's related with my…" Her words trailed off. She realized just who was likely waiting to speak with them.

Henry nodded. "That's Frank Lou's ship. It looks like he's getting mixed up on this now."


Kepper brought the Nimrod into Antoine's personal dock on the Rigault Lunar Station. He stepped out of the airlock to be greeted by two Rigault security guards with assault carbines. By instinct, he calculated the various approaches he could make to put them down if they posed a threat, but they offered no such need. Wordlessly, they guided him out of the dock and into the command sections of the station.

It was clear things were different. There were half again as many guards as usual walking patrols. Fewer corporate personnel of civilian nature were around. Rigault was on alert. This posed understandable concerns for Kepper, who always faced the prospect of employers deciding he knew too much, or that they didn't want to pay his contract after all.

He spoke nothing of these thoughts when they finally arrived at Antoine's office on the station. Antoine was turned away from the door to look out the window. Beyond was one of the station's "dry docks," essentially a gantry in a micro-G field where even now one of his cruisers was having its final fitting out completed. "They'll be done soon," he said. "The embodiment of Rigault's rise in Sagittarius. The fist of a new empire. What do you think, Mister Kepper? Honestly?"

"I think talking of empire isn't the usual thing for a megacorp exec," he answered. "Those ships cost a fortune. I could cripple governments for a fraction of the cost."

"Yes, and such is our usual way." Antoine's electronic eye reflected brilliantly off the window. "But the era of the megacorp will end in these spaces. If not at my hand, then at another's."

"Like the League?" Kepper crossed his arms. "I'm no fool, Rigault. The League doesn't sell destroyers to 'anti-Social capitalists,' peace treaty or no peace treaty. You've got them involved."

Antoine turned to face him. "Do you fear them?"

"I know they want me dead; it's reason enough to be careful around them. Especially when I fly a ship I took from one of their intel commanders."

"Ah. Well, rest assured that the League is unaware of your presence, and I intend to keep it that way. They are an ally of convenience for the moment, one I will set aside once their usefulness is at its end. You, on the other hand, I will always have a use for." He walked over to his desk and sat down.

Kepper, after a moment, took a chair across from him. "I'm listening," he said.

"All good rulers, whether they call themselves chiefs or presidents or emperors, even 'general secretaries,' must have men such as yourself in their employ. Threats to their power will always exist, and we need means to quietly deal with such threats. And I mean to have the best."

Kepper sensed he was getting flattered, even as he enjoyed said flattery. Yeah, you need men like me, until you don't, then you tend to betray us once we 'outlive our usefulness.' Aloud, he said, "I'm good for retainer work, if the retainer's right."

"It will be."

"Even with your financial woes? I read GalNet. I know how things are playing out."

"A temporary issue that will be resolved once everything is in place," Antoine assured him. "Although that brings me to why you are here."

"You want me to tag another mark."

"Two marks." Antoine frowned. "Tia Nguyen and Linh Khánh."

"I already bagged Nguyen."

"And her friends 'unbagged' her. So this time, I want her made into a corpse."

Explains the security increase, Kepper mused. "They must've had serious firepower to bring Nguyen out."

"Coalition Marines, according to our findings." Antoine drew his hands into fists. "They do not concern me. Their own government has disavowed them to protect the peace treaty."

Kepper kept his face neutral, but he didn't like the sound of that. The League was risking the peace to protect Antoine Rigault? "Any idea where they went?"

"The Majha was the ship they escaped the system in. It most likely jumped for the Coalition border, but their disavowal and the charges that are being leveled at Nguyen and her friends will undoubtedly keep them from entering Coalition space."

"I've got a few ideas where they might go." Kepper rose from his chair. "I'll go tag them and bring you the proof of death once the job's done."

"You'll be rewarded handsomely, Mr. Kepper. A sum worthy of your skill."

"The flattery's not necessary, Director," Kepper informed him. "This is a matter of professional pride, after all."

"Of course. I did not mean to sound patronizing. Good hunting, Mister Kepper."

Kepper accepted the well-wishes with a nod before standing and departing the room. He's an ambitious one. Maybe too ambitious… and if he thinks he can cast the League off so easily, a little deluded. It might be time soon to seek new employment.

Still, a job's a job. With that thought, he headed back to the Nimrod, already calculating the most likely locations of Nguyen and Khánh, and the best ways to end their lives.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Antoine waited in the office for some time after Kepper left. Having Kepper learn of his League connections was not an optimal matter, certainly, but he'd at least been convinced of the importance he rated them.

After all, Antoine was no fool. The League was as long term a threat, and enemy, as the Coalition. This alliance was truly one of convenience, and they would turn on him as soon as it was in their interest. He didn't entirely blame them for this, as he had the same plan. Such was the nature of those in the game.

His eyes were drifting back to the window, and his superb sight of the Conquérant, when his guards brought Aristide and Breivik into the office. He brought his eyes back over and stood. "Commander, Doctor. I trust the facilities are to your liking?"

"We at least have sufficient room for work," Breivik said. "And confinement for the prisoners is working well enough. I would still prefer a planetside lab space, though."

"Perhaps, once the implantation is finished, we will be secure enough to allow it." Antoine folded his hands together in front of him. "I would like a report from you, Doctor, on our progress with the device, and its ability to physically control workers to keep them on task. I will find it useful in presenting to the HBC and the planetary government."

"I can do so," Breivik said with the air of a man who very much did not want to do so. "It will take time from my work. I've lost enough time getting my wounds treated."

"It is necessary," Antoine insisted.

"Then it will be done." Aristide gave Breivik a look that promised she would book no further dissent and he sighed. "On other matters, we have received some intelligence that a group of mercenaries attached to the Coalition are gathering in nearby systems."

"Which mercenaries? Is this something to be concerned with?"

"Possibly, but we are not certain," she replied. "These 'Little Sisters of the Divine Recompense' are superstitious fanatics, and their role in the Coalition-backed overthrow of our allied government on Monrovia has ensured their eventual liquidation by our security services. It is possible they could be reacting to what has happened here, but we have no firm intelligence."

Antoine chuckled. "I have heard of these mercenary nuns. They refuse to kill in combat, and besides, they will never work for an atheist, socialist revolution."

"Likely not," Aristide agreed. She stood. "I have work planetside, and Doctor Breivik has duties to attend to. We shall meet again later."

"That we shall. Take care, Commander."

There was a final nod from the cold woman before she and Breivik left. Antoine leaned back in his chair and considered what she spoke of. Does she truly fear the intervention of these "Little Sisters"? Or is she seeking to justify something due to their presence? He stood. I may have to make sure more of the fleet is ready sooner than I anticipated.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

After a private shuttle ride back to Thyssenbourg, Aristide took a helicar to the housing for the planet's National Assembly. A provided security code gave her entry and she swiftly followed a route she'd long memorized.

She arrived at an apartment toward the end of a hall. The door opened for her. Felipe Xiu, of the Hestian Social Solidarity Party, stood to receive her and let her in. Once she was inside the door, he closed it and turned to face her. "Commander, what may I do for the revolution today?"

"Nothing yet," she said. "Things are still progressing, and our options must remain flexible."

"I understand. I am ready to do whatever is necessary, and I've made all the preparations."

She nodded in approval. "Antoine Rigault will introduce the implant to the National Assembly in two weeks. You will lead the party to vote for the measure."

He nodded. "I see. An accelerationist measure?"

"Potentially. There are many factors we must account for in the near future, Xiu. Hestia's liberation may come more quickly than either of us expect. Your role will continue to be leading those of your planet who stand for enlightened Social rule. So far, you have done well, and as it stands, you will be recorded as the champion who brought Social rule to Hestia. No matter how that is brought about, or what you must do to attain it."

Her compliment hit its mark. Xiu's face showed his determination to fulfill that end regardless of the cost. "Whatever comes, we will be ready, Commander. I stand ready to work with the League in liberating the workers of all of Sagittarius from capitalist and religious oppression. I pledge my life to the victory of Society."

"I would expect nothing less from you," Aristide said to him. "Be ready for all contingencies. If I must, I will call in my ships, but it is important they remain unseen for the time being. As such, I must go now."

"I will be waiting for further instructions, Comrade Commander," he promised before leading her from the room. After she was gone, she mused on the shame that so many other revolutionaries in Sagittarius failed to see the League as the liberators they were. So many were in the grip of nationalist aspirations or outdated "leftist" economic and social concepts. They failed to recognize that only the absolute control of Society would provide the liberation they sought.

It was something all would recognize one day, of course, whether it was in the confines of a Socialization camp or with the aid of Breivik's device.


The transfer tube locked into place at the port-side airlock of the Majha. Tia and Henry waited quietly with Kaiya behind them. "Will you be okay?" she asked. "This man is one of the wealthiest in all of Sagittarius. What could he want with you?"

It was a question Tia was wondering herself. Francois "Frank" Lou always irked her for what he represented: a Hestian becoming the same as the people who exploited and oppressed their world.

"Normally, I'd imagine he wanted us to do a job," Henry said, "since we've worked for him before. But he has to know the Wolf's gone."

"He'll be up to something. He's a capitalist schemer just as sharp as the other megacorp types." Tia couldn't keep the harshness from her voice.

"Still, he's no friend of the HBC, so he could be useful," Henry reminded her. "We need more allies, after all, and I can't imagine he'll be happy with what Rigault's doing, either the neural device or the fleet."

He'd spoken with a gentle tone, one he'd rarely spoken with before. It made her wonder all the more just what happened to him in San Tomas. She also had to admit he was right. It galled her to think of Lou as a potential ally like that, but Mother Sarno's messages made clear just how much this was going to cost, and it was far more than the Party had available in funds.

The two ventured down the tube. Halfway across the gray interior of the Majha's transfer tube gave way to a light, sky-tinted blue. Transtanium viewing ports allowed them to look out into the void and the ships they were passing between, the wide, functional Majha a contrast to the sleek aesthetics of the Vesta. Upon closer inspection, the yacht had ports for what were likely concealed auto-turrets, meaning it had at least some self-defense capability. Tia wondered if its form also hid a powerful deflector system or fusion drives, letting such a ship escape from the kind of threats it might face jumping around Neutral Space.

The airlock on the other end slid open effortlessly, with barely a second passing between the closing of the outer door behind them and the inner door opening ahead.

Carpeted splendor greeted them. The walls were the same sky blue and resembled a high class hotel's interior more than a spaceship's. The ventilation system vents were built into the lower walls, usually out of immediate sight, and the bulkhead partitions were cleverly disguised as the inward curve of the walls to mark the sections of the hall.

The material wealth on display was bad enough. Tia forced herself not to snarl at the sight of the servant in blue and gold livery who awaited them. He had the same coloration as Tia and the accent confirmed that he was Hestian as well. "Mr. Lou is expecting you. This way, please."

They followed. Tia glared at the costly display that Lou funded by the labor of his work force. The liveried servant being a fellow Hestian was almost something the megacorps would do, although few megacorp officials back home would ever trust a native Hestian with more than menial work.

The hall gave way to a large pool deck. The pool was something like fifty meters long and twenty wide, with marked depths as low as half a meter at one end all the way to a 2.5-meter depth on the far end. The sound of splashing came to them, all from the shallow end. A gaggle of children were playing in the water. The youngest couldn't be more than three and was in the arms of a smiling young woman of olive-yellow coloration. A few other women and two men loitered around the pool, as did several servants, including another man in livery and a woman with a paramedic's insignia on her armband. Tia glanced upward to see that the ceiling of the pool area was a liquid crystal display, much as the forward wall of the Shadow Wolf's bridge had been. It showed a cloudless sky at noon-time with a yellow sun.

Who are the children? Lou's family? She supposed it made sense for him to bring them on a yacht like this, especially if it gave cover for leaving his corporate HQ at this time. She remembered he had a wife who was a fellow exile. Had his children married Hestian as well? Or could their spouses be from New Luzon in the Coalition, or Cochin, or any of the other worlds that contributed the initial settlers of Hestia?

On the far side of the deck, a large window looked out over the scene. Across the distance, Tia could see there was a figure standing there in some sort of blue or gray suit. Probably Lou. Looking out at his luxury yacht as if he sweated to build it himself. She noted Henry glancing toward her and said nothing, but she did try to restore neutrality to her expression.

On the far side of the pool deck led to more halls. The servant brought them around to a spiral stairwell and led them to the deck above. They were brought to a pair of wooden double doors that the servant pulled open. "Mr. Lou, sir, Captain James Henry and First Mate Tia Nguyen."

"Thank you, Ninh." The voice that spoke lacked Henry's baritone, but it had a commanding firmness to it, and matched Tia's accent exactly. Across the room, Frank Lou turned from the window overlooking the pool deck to face them. His suit and vest were gray with the business shirt under it white. The gray matched his eyes and hair, which was now whitening at the temples.

Despite his reputation, Lou was not of imposing size, at least, not any longer. He easily stood to Henry's height, and his shoulders were broad enough to indicate how formidable he'd been in his youth.

The room itself was a conference room. It was spacious, with a few fine sculptures and pieces that included a Saurian stone-hewn tablet and a hand-sewn Tal'mayan tapestry. The chairs were plush leather pieces of beige and the table was a tropical hardwood. The ideographic insignia of Lou's company—Chinese ideographs, Tia thought—was carved into it, framing a holoprojector.

Lou gestured to the seats. "Please, feel at home." He noted her expression and grinned slightly. "I'm sure your comrades would understand, Miss Nguyen. In these times, we Hestians must stick together."

She fought to keep her expression neutral. Her mind flashed back to her dead comrades, to Nhung and Quang and the others. How would they consider this if they were here?

She settled into the chair, visibly uncomfortable. Henry sat beside her. He clearly didn't share her disdain of the opulence, so he let himself enjoy the comfort of the chair.

Lou slid into the chair opposite from them. "You have made quite the name for yourselves since I last employed you," he noted. "Your reputation is certainly more formidable than ever. It contributes to the frenzy your actions have provoked throughout the neutral systems."

"The news media seems to mostly be reporting on Rigault's claims of terrorism," Henry said. "And nobody's bringing up the League connection."

"Over GalNet, certainly, but the sources of myself and many leaders across Neutral Space are more diverse than what we hear on GNN." Lou folded his hands on the table. "I've certainly been aware of the HBC's links to the League, as have some of my competitors and peers and other government officials. Now they hear things they don't like. Rigault building warships with League support. A secret League science project on Hestia, under Antoine Rigault's personal protection. By kicking over the anthill on Hestia, you've done many of us a service, whatever Vice President Rhodes says."

Tia scoffed at the name of the Coalition "Peace Union" leader. "She thinks we're CDF pawns trying to re-ignite the war."

"She would. If not for her narrowmindedness, I would probably like her a great deal. To get where she is, she's faced odds similar to those I've taken on, and she's persevered through them." Lou shook his head. "But Vice President Rhodes is not our concern. Director Rigault is."

Tia leaned forward in the chair. "He won't be if we take our planet back."

A bemused smile formed on Lou's face, much to Tia's irritation. "Another revolution? I've heard reports that the HWP and other leftist movements have rebuilt their arms caches. But certainly you must know you're out of time. Rigault is moving to have his new 'worker control system' approved for use. In two weeks' time, he'll get the National Assembly to vote on it, a vote I'm sure he'll win, and I suspect he'll put it into operation immediately."

No! We're not ready! Tia frowned at the news. "Dammit, I wanted more time."

"Do you know what the worker control system is, Lou?" Henry asked.

"I didn't until I was helpfully provided with that data packet you've been transmitting to certain parties in Neutral Space," Lou replied. His voice was harsh. "It makes for sobering reading, and it fits entirely with what the League—and Antoine Rigault—would inflict on others. I'm just as concerned about his fleet. Thankfully, his own ambition makes him weak at the moment."

"His costs," Henry suggested. "We've already discussed this among ourselves. Rigault's a huge megacorp, and they've got a lot of wealth, but they're financing the construction of four fleet cruisers that the CDF would be happy to own, and of a destroyer and frigate force to support them. Even with the League sending them raw materials, that's got to be a drain on company finances."

"The signs are there for those who know how to look," Lou said. The grin on his face seemed appreciative of Henry's answer. "I can confirm for you that yes, Rigault's finances are in critical shape. Director Rigault's cousin, Rene, is officially in charge, but while he is CEO, he lacks his cousin's vision and he knows it. Antoine is the one with the plan for the future, and he's sold Rene on it as the means to expand their wealth."

The back of Tia's neck blazed with remembered heat. "You mean he's going to make us meat-puppets and loot other worlds with his ships," she snarled.

Lou didn't react to her anger. "Yes. And if he completes his projects, he'll become untouchable short of an active military effort from the Coalition. Even Lusitania would be hard-pressed to fight Rigault's planned fleet, and he would certainly undermine Prime Minister Ascaro with economic attacks first." Lou leaned forward. "But right now, the entire company is vulnerable. If something were to provoke a panic selling of their stock, say, a successful Hestian revolution, the company's empty coffers would break them." As he spoke of revolution on Hestia, a satisfied smile broke on Lou's face.

Stocks. Of course. Always stocks with capitalists. Tia's sour thought was joined by her understanding of what Lou was getting at. But if he's right that this will bankrupt them...

Henry finished her thought aloud. "If Rigault's broke, Antoine can't complete his fleet. He certainly can't fund building the neural control devices for the League and his own use."

"Exactly. And that, Captain, is why I want to help you and Miss Nguyen." He nodded to her. "Who, I suspect, will shortly be named Chairwoman of the Hestian Workers' Party Revolutionary Committee."

What… how did he know?! Tia frowned and glanced toward Henry, who raised his eyebrows at her. There was humor in his voice when he asked, "So much for 'First Mate,' huh?"

"Sorry, Jim, I was going to tell you when it was official." After giving him what she hoped was a proper apologetic look, Tia turned her attention back to Lou. "Your sources are really good, Mister Lou. I'd almost say too good." I need to talk to the others about this. Lou should not be privy to internal party matters like this! "Yes, I've been informed that the last communication with party leadership has them preparing to name me to that post. I never sought it, nor did I want it, but I have to speak with the Party's authority in gaining allies and planning our next move."

"So I imagined. You're the best candidate for a job like that, save perhaps Ms. Khánh, given all of the recent accidents that have so tragically plagued the Hestian exile community." His voice was thick with sarcasm as he referred to said accidents.

Tia let the comment pass without responding.

"So, Chairwoman, Captain…" His eyes moved from Tia to Henry and back to Tia. There was an earnestness in them that Tia didn't dare let herself trust. "You want to bring down Antoine Rigault and overthrow the Hestian Business Council. And I'm here to help."

There it was. The most wealthy Hestian in the galaxy, the man whom she considered a traitor to his people for embracing their oppressors' system, wanted to help overthrow that system.

"What's in it for you?" Tia asked. Her voice was even thanks to her effort, but she stared at his eyes in challenge. "You're a capitalist yourself. You've got your own megacorp, with millions of laborers working so you can have your fancy interstellar yacht and your luxuries. Why would you help our revolution when it's a challenge to the system that's made you wealthy? What's in it for you? How will you profit from our labor?"

Henry let out a sigh and gave her a pleading look. But after these past fifteen and a half years, Tia knew he still didn't understand what this meant to her. Everything she learned from the time she was an adolescent told her Frank Lou was, morally-speaking, no different from Rene Rigault and all of the other megacorps leaders who exploited her people.

Lou, for his part, didn't seem to mind her words. His smile even widened at them. "Admirable, Chairwoman Nguyen. That's the kind of attitude we need to negotiate with the HBC once we've laid Rigault low."

Your boardroom charm won't work on me, dammit! "That's not an answer."

He nodded. "No, but this is. Where's my profit? Beyond destroying Rigault before their new warfleet can pose a threat to my own shipping fleet? Or stopping those neural devices, that abomination of a technology, from spreading across the galaxy? Well, let's count." He started raising fingers. "The HBC blocks every effort I make to purchase property or business on my own homeworld, since my power would challenge the social order that favors them and keeps our people down. With them gone, there are business concerns on Hestia I can make profitable, for myself and for our people. Destroying Rigault would also give me great pleasure and remove an obstacle to some of my own expansion plans on various worlds. And it would be a blow to the League of Sol to lose an ally they've sunk that much material into aiding."

Lou finished his count at three and laid his hand out on the table. "You need my wealth, as much as you hate how I got it. I need your revolution, even if it proves contrary to my long-term interests. We both need Antoine Rigault's head on a plate and the HBC's surrender of control over our homeworld. So I offer you the wealth you need, and accept the risks that go with your victory or defeat, and all I ask is a chance to do business with my own people while observing Hestian laws. I will further pledge, in writing, to continue to provide fair living wages to all Hestian workers in my employ, and that I will never pay in company scrip but always in acknowledged payable currency."

The response she almost shouted was That's not enough! She wanted more. She wanted him to start paying all of his workers a fair proportion of his company's massive profits, even if it cost him his fortune. She wanted him to stop perpetuating an economic system that she despised. She wanted him to sell this damn resort ship and give the proceeds to feed the hungry and house the homeless. She wanted him to stop being a megacorp-owning capitalist, because that was the only way she could sit here and not feel like she was betraying the comrades who died trying to end their world's suffering.

But she couldn't. She knew she couldn't. That very same wealth, as much as she hated where it came from, was something she needed, if she was going to save her people from suffering what she'd gone through. She forced her body to relax and, after a few seconds, found her voice. "I find those terms acceptable, Mister Lou. And I will hold you to them."

He nodded, damn him. "As a proud Hestian, I would be disappointed by anything less, Chairwoman. Where should we begin?"

"The Sisters," Tia answered. "I'm in negotiation to hire the Little Sisters of Divine Recompense to join our forces. Mother Superior Sarno is in San Tomas Correlo, and she's considering my offer. Being able to purchase the equipment she thinks we'll need, and to pay their expenses up front, should be enough to convince her."

"Give me her link code, and I'll make arrangements," Lou promised. "Armaments will be easy. The Coalition's selling off a lot of their war stocks to fund their planetary reconstruction programs. I'll arrange the purchases and have them ready for you and your allies before we begin. The HSF will think they're fighting the Terran Coalition Marine Corps."

And we'll need it, Tia thought.

Now Henry spoke. "We're going to need a new ship to replace the Wolf, and execute a plan we're considering to deal with Rigault's cruisers. There's a ship dealer, Ramon Mendoza, who has a pristine Auber-Eisenburg V he won't let go for less than sixty-five million. We can cover part of the cost, but we'll need more."

"Pay him twenty-five and I'll cover the rest," Lou answered. "The ship will be kept in your name as well. When this is over, I imagine a ship that size will keep you in business for years."

Tia allowed herself a small smile. Whatever her future on a free Hestia, she wanted Jim and the others to keep flying.

Henry nodded and continued. "That brings me to our plan for those Rigault cruisers. We're considering sabotage if necessary, but with the right manpower, we might be able to steal them for our own use," he said. "But we'll need crews."

"I'll get some for you."

Tia and Henry exchanged glances. The glance came with the obvious thought in both their minds.

We might actually be able to pull this off now.

"I think our chances of mutual success are increasing already." Lou clearly guessed what they were thinking. "While we gather forces, I'll remain with the Vesta. I'd like invitations to any further strategy meetings, of course."

"Of course," Tia conceded.

"If you'd like a meal before you go, feel free to talk to Ninh. Otherwise, I'd better get started on those calls." Lou stood. "When this is over, I look forward to the parade in Thyssenbourg."

"I'll make sure you're there. As for a meal, I'm going to dine with my comrades on the Majha. Thank you for the offer."

"The same with me, Mister Lou," Henry said.

Lou nodded at them. "Of course. Ninh will show you back to the transport tube, then."

They went to the doors and found the liveried servant waiting on the other side. After the doors closed, Tia gave him an appraising look. "Why do you dress up like that for Lou?"

"Because he pays me well, and he bought my family a new home on Cochin to give us independence," Ninh replied. "What more could I ask for?"

She almost provided an answer but stopped herself. I have more important things to think about, she reminded herself.


A week over San Salvador passed. With Lou bankrolling everything, the Majha remained in orbit beside the Vesta. Again the transfer tubes of the two ships locked together to permit travel between them.

Now Ninh was escorting a far larger group. Henry and Tia came as before, joined by Linh, Yanik, Kaiya, Major Wu, Quan, and a couple of the other Hestians, and most importantly, Mother Superior Sarno herself. Her reaction to the ostentatious wealth was more restrained than that of the Hestians, although she did frown at it regardless.

Unlike before, the pool deck was cleared, the pool itself covered by the deck, and a massive holotank stood in the middle of the deck surrounded by tables with chairs. Lou stood ready with two people of about thirty-five to forty years of age. They were dressed in business attire like he was. "Gentlemen, ladies, welcome," he said. "This is my son Ramon and my daughter Mei-Ling. They will be functioning as my staff for this meeting."

Henry thought he recognized them from the prior week, overseeing the children in the pool. He was not surprised that Lou had family, although he had no idea they worked that closely with him.

Everyone took seats save for Ramon Lou. He took up a spot at the controls of the holotank. The display shifted to show a great likeness of Hestia, each major city labeled in red. Thyssenbourg was listed as "Wen Hao" in large red letters, under the name that Henry knew was used. The same was true for Schneiderbourg, Kruppberg, and a number of other cities apparently renamed by the megacorps over the generations.

"So we should get to business," said Lou. "We have one week before Antoine Rigault begins putting control devices onto the spines of every Hestian he can reach. It can only be the beginning of his plans." He nodded to his son. With a touch of Ramon's hand, the display zoomed out from Hestia for the moment, enough to show the planet's moon and a marker showing a space station. "The Rigault Lunar Station was built to process ore mined from Hestia's moon. Now the data we have says it is fitting out the flag cruisers for Antoine Rigault's new fleet."

"Those ships will be the most powerful vessels in Neutral Space once they're active," Henry said to the assembled. "The only ships that generate more power than these things are the Lion of Judah and the Coalition's growing force of antimatter-powered ships."

"Very impressive, but also disconcerting." Sarno's expression was dour. "The Order has some warships, but none of cruiser size. They are older CDF destroyers and frigates. We would stand no chance against such vessels. Are there allies who can help?"

Henry exchanged a nod with Tia and Linh before nodding. "We believe so. I've put out word to sympathetic worlds and groups, but some of them are quite a long way off from here. There's no guarantee they'll be here in time. Maybe Mad Jack Dulaney's fleet from Trinidad, at least, but he'll have to gather his ships up first. We might also see the Tokarevs show up with some of their privateers out of Cyrilgrad."

"'Mights' and 'maybes' are not the same thing as a solid commitment," Kaiya remarked, unimpressed.

"Given we won't be getting any CDF help, it's the best I can do," Henry replied. "And it's why I want to seize those cruisers instead of leaving them in our rear."

"That would require getting a rather substantial force aboard the station," Shahkrit pointed out. "We've never managed to get any of ours assigned there. Director Rigault only allows offworld labor. We can't promise support."

"They take shipments of ore, right?" Tia's question was answered by a nod. "Then let's take that new ship in. The Venture Star, right?"

"That's the name on the registration, yes," Henry noted.

She nodded and continued, "The Venture Star's an Auber-Eisenburg Mark V. She's got eight holds we can hide boarding parties in. We pretend to be bringing in an ore shipment and take the station once we're docked."

"It might not be so easy." Lou leaned forward in his seat. "Rigault will be protecting that station heavily, including the best sensors he has. The moment they realize the life readings are too high, the station's emplacements will blow you to pieces. They'll fire anyway if they detect null zones consistent with sensor-shielded areas."

"As important as this point is, I would like to table it for the moment." Sarno's attention swung to Tia and her group. "Chairwoman Nguyen, do you have a better idea of your forces' condition?"

"Our cadres are ready to act once they get the signal," she answered. "They'll hit in a coordinated strike in multiple cities and aim for enemy forces and communication infrastructure. Thyssenbourg itself is a different matter since the HSF keeps its top troops there. The local cadre might tie them up briefly, but they'll be overwhelmed without heavy support."

"That support, they will receive," Sarno said matter-of-factly. "I'm mobilizing most of my order, including our heavy equipment, for the purpose of this campaign. We will attempt non-lethal measures at first, but if they are clearly insufficient, we'll give the order for lethal force."

"Would you waste our lives as well as your own?" Quan asked. "Whatever your dogmas are, the HSF won't have a single qualm about killing you. All you'll be doing is wasting our first shots and putting our lives on the line as well. All to save those collaborators and their offworld bosses."

"All to preserve life, young man," Sarno said. "There is no higher calling."

"Our liberation is!"

Not a soul in the room missed the obvious ramifications of the argument continuing. Henry considered speaking, but Linh acted first. "Quan, these people are willing to die to save Hestians from the neural control device." She brought her metal limb up and laid the hand on his arm. "That is what matters. Sit down and stop disrupting the meeting."

Quan acquiesced, but the smoldering look in his eyes made it clear he wasn't satisfied by the answer.

Henry moved the conversation forward. "What's the status of those arms purchases?"

"I have ships delivering the desired surplus from the Coalition starting over these next few days," Lou replied. "Assault rifles, powered armor, even vehicles and artillery pieces. The Sisters won't be able to use it all, I imagine, so I've put out my own recruiting call. My Hestian workforce includes veterans of mercenary units and security forces, and I've hired a couple of smaller outfits to fill out our numbers."

"And the cruiser crew situation?"

"If you can get us there, I'll have enough people to ensure you get at least a skeleton crew on each ship," Lou promised. "That includes a few CDF veterans."

"We can provide some personnel for such crews too," Sarno pledged.

"We'll find a way," Henry vowed. "Have faith in that. For now, though, we should probably get back to work."

"That we should," Linh remarked. "The Venture Star may be in good shape, but that doesn't mean she doesn't need some work done. We might not be able to give her the same outfitting the Shadow Wolf had, but I've got a few changes we can make in the time we have left."

"Then we are adjourned for now." Lou rose.

The meeting broke up. Everyone returned to the transport tube to the Majha with the weight of their situation still pressing down. Removing the Rigault cruisers, or outright taking them over, was vital to their success. Accomplishing that mission was clearly another matter.

Henry lingered behind the others as they filed through the tube. As much as the problems weighed, he didn't feel them quite as keenly as he would have before. Inside, he felt very much like everything was coming together. They'd find a way. People like Antoine Rigault, they always were arrogant enough to leave themselves vulnerable in one spot or another.

When he got back to the Majha, Henry walked along the outer hull sections, noting the view outside of the portholes. They were still over San Tomas Correlo and would be until departure. Already a few ships were milling around them, parts of either Lou's fleet or the Sisters'.

He was not alone in watching them. He noted the form of Vidia leaning by one of the ports. His hair was arranged into dreadlocks. When he noticed Henry approaching, he smiled gently. "Captain. All goin' well?"

"So far so good," Henry said, coming to a stop beside him. "How about you?"

"Just doin' some thinking."

There was a certain resignation in Vidia's voice. Henry drew closer. "Oh?"

"My purpose here." Vidia glanced Henry's way. "I always hoped ta bring ya back inta faith, yar own or mine. I'm glad ta see ya've found yar way again, but I had nothin' ta do with it. I wonder how much of ya life so far would've been better if I'd helped ya faster."

"It wasn't on you, Vidia, it never was," Henry answered. He clapped Vidia's shoulder with his hand. "If anything, I owe you for all your efforts."

That got Vidia's attention. "Oh?"

"You may not have healed me, but you helped keep me from sliding any further away," Henry said. "You did exactly what a spiritual counselor is supposed to do. You tended to me until I was ready to take my next step. Or plunge, as the case may be here. But you've got nothing to be ashamed of. That's the important thing."

A reflective look went through Vidia's eyes. "I see what ya mean, Captain." He chuckled. "God's ways are not somethin' Man can see. Perhaps that's a good thing. We can only do what is right and hope it fits inta the greater plan."

Henry nodded and grinned. "Sounds about right to me."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

With the permission of Dr. Singh, Oskar continued his work from the Majha, and would until the Venture Star was available and ready. With his operations on the Hestians complete, Oskar turned his attentions to his long-term patients.

Yanik sat on the observation bed, his jumpsuit partially pulled away to reveal the mass of scarring tissue and torn muscle from the wound on his right shoulder. Oskar ran the scanner over it and compared to is previous scans. "The re-injury you suffered while rescuing Samina will prolong your recovery time."

"I imagined so, but I had to free her. Leaving her to die would be a violation of everything I believe in."

"You did the right thing, Yanik. She's still young. She still has much to live for." He put away the scanner and resumed work on the bandaging holding Yanik's shoulder in place, putting fresh ones on. Wound sealants ensured the partly-rebuilt joint wouldn't seep severely, but there were still telltale signs of the damage Kepper's explosive round inflicted on his shoulder.

"It is important that the joint retain some flexibility, if not strength," Yanik said. "I will have need of the arm soon."

"Oh?" Oskar leveled a cautious look at his shipmate. "You expect to be in the shooting, don't you?"

"I will be. I intend to join Tia's forces in their assault on the Hestian capital. She will have need of my aid."

The physician leveled a concerned look at his larger friend. "Your shoulder won't take much in heavy combat, Yanik. If you do insist on exposing yourself, Captain Henry could use your help, especially if he seizes those cruisers."

"Perhaps, but he will have most of the crew. Tia will be in a command post without support. I believe I can do more for our cause by being at her side, ready to fight."

Their eyes met. Oskar could see the determination in Yanik's expression. He intended to be in the thickest fighting if he was needed, and that was likely to be in Thyssenbourg.

Oskar disagreed. As a physician, he had an obligation to keep a patient from such harm, given his condition.

But I would do greater harm, perhaps, by damage to his spirit. Aloud, he answered, "If that is your wish, I'll accept it. Not happily, I admit, but I will allow it."

Yanik nodded. "I understand why you say this. Krassha must be upheld for you as well as me. I pledge to not try my injury unless required to protect my life or another's."

"Then I will accept your word, and I thank you for understanding." Oskar finished his work on the bandage. "We'll replace that again in a couple of days. And I will definitely want to put fresh ones on before we begin the attack."

"Of course, Doctor."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Venture Star was too large for the hangars available at San Tomas Correlo Spaceport, necessitating the ship be parked outside of the rented hangar in question. Tia and Linh walked out of one of the portside holds and rounded the hold, approaching the center of the vessel and the ski-rail landing struts that supported its mass in gravity wells. The main body was marked with the work of crews hired to fit extra manned turrets, giving the ship better firepower without overburdening her structure. "This ship's not so easy to modify," Linh noted to Tia. "Auber-Eisenburg’s aren't built for modding, really."

"That's a shame. We could certainly use a neutron cannon."

Linh chuckled. "I can see getting used to that much firepower. But the holds aren't well-placed here to install a fusion drive. You'll have to make do with a really good set of point-defenses."

"Not even plasma cannons?"

Linh shook her head. "Sorry. No time."

"So we're relying on Jim pulling a trick from his hat."

Tia could tell that the way she spoke bothered her friend. Given Linh's searching gaze, she continued. "Even if we pull this off—"

"When," Linh corrected.

"When, yes." Tia accepted that correction. "Once it's done, what's next?"

"No more megacorporations, no more neural control devices, no more penal labor to kill off anyone willing to stand up to them." Linh's voice was rough as she recited those entries. "We'll be allowed to clean up our planet and grow as much food as we want. Our people will work for themselves, not offworld capitalists."

"That's what I want, but I…" Tia's words trailed off. She set her face in her hand. "Linh, it could still go wrong. Even after we win. So many of our comrades, even your own cousin, expect some measure of punishment for those who fought for the megacorps. Who worked with them. Even if they only did that out of fear, or to feed their families."

"They're still collaborators, Tia," Linh reminded her. "They have to face justice for that."

"Yes, but does that mean we have to put them up against the wall like your cousin talks about?"

"He's young. He's still full of anger. Like a certain comrade of mine I remember."

Tia smiled briefly at the reminder that she used to talk about all of the security officers and "traitors" she would line up. "That's what I'm afraid of, though," she explained. "I look back at what I used to be, and I see how wrong she was. She, I, thought you could just kill the bad people and, like that"—she snapped her fingers—"freedom would be ours. But it's not that simple."

"True," Linh agreed.

"Revolutions can go bad. It's a fact of history. They can turn on the people that fought for them and consume them, until the blood is flowing everywhere and the very people the revolution was fought to liberate are harmed by those who fought for them. They turn against the revolution over that, and sometimes things even go back to the way they were." Tia folded her arms. "What if that's all we end up doing? Hurting our own until they bring the megacorps back just to regain a sense of stability? Or even worse, what if they embrace a dictatorship because they want to be led? What if we, what if I, end up every bit as cruel as Antoine Rigault?"

"You could never be that cruel, Tia," Linh protested.

"We could, though. Easily. It's happened so often, especially revolutions like the one we're planning on."

"Well, for one thing, I wouldn't let you," Linh said. "I promise you that. I wouldn't let you go that far. As for our people, all we can do is give them a chance and hope they make the right choices. We have to believe in them. And that's giving them a lot more than what the megacorps—"

Tia spotted the red dot that formed on Linh's temple. Instinct took over. She threw her weight into her friend, causing a cry of surprise from Linh to fill the air.

Followed, almost immediately, by the supersonic crack of a bullet.


The same supersonic round echoed through the earplugs of Allan Kepper. The manhunter remained still where he lay on the edge of the ship hangar adjacent to the Venture Star. Through the scope of his sniper rifle, he tracked his weapon over to follow his targets. Must've seen the targeting laser. Oh well.

Knowing he was now on the clock, Kepper kept his patience. Hastening his fire would only complicate his job. He reacquired his targets just as they stood. His aim centered on the chest of Linh Khánh and his finger stroked the trigger again.

A spark erupted from her right arm. Damn. Prosthetic, metal. I'd have gotten a center mass shot otherwise. He adjusted his aim accordingly, recognizing he had to hit her elsewhere. More than that, they were mere seconds from cover. He had to take one down now.

He kept his weapon steady and got another bead on Linh. His finger tensed again. Another crack echoed as a supersonic round split the air.

Through the scope, he saw the blood erupt from her neck. She went down beside a support strut for the ship. Her friend dropped into cover with her.

Alright, time to finish this. Kepper switched his rifle to auto-mode. While he got to his feet, he held the trigger, spewing round after round at his marks to keep them pinned down. He continued to fire all the way to the side of the hangar and the ladder on the exterior. Through the scope, he verified they were still in cover. They're smart, they'll wait a few seconds.

With that consideration in mind, he slung the rifle onto his shoulder and stepped out onto the ladder.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Everything came in a blur. The gunshots, the sparks, and finally, the cry of pain from Linh as a supersonic bullet ripped through the flesh at the back of her neck. Tia pulled her along as they fell into cover behind one of the support legs of the Venture Star.

Linh groaned. "I'm alive." She touched the back of her neck with her left hand. Blood continued to ooze out of a rip in her skin. "Nothing vital hit." Her right arm moved a little jerkily. "Think it jammed a servo, though."

"Yeah." Tia pulled her link from her pocket and activated the network call to the others. "Tia here, Linh and I are under fire on the outside! We're pinned down!" The continued gunfire around them undoubtedly reinforced her words.

"What do you want us to do?" asked Samina.

"You're not armed, you and Pieter stay inside," Tia insisted. "Secure all the ship entrances!"


"Henry here. I'm getting Wu's team. We're going to a shuttle now. ETA is at least ten minutes. Can you hold out that long?"

"We'll try," Tia said over the gunfire. She reached to her hip and pulled the CP-2540, a sleeker version of Henry's preferred model. It didn't have the weight of the Rigault pistol she'd wielded for all of these years.

After several seconds passed without fire, Tia warily moved her head to the side of the leg and peeked toward the hangar. The angle let her spot a figure sliding down the ladder along the side of the building. She lifted the pistol and started firing. Muscle memory caused her to over-adjust, as if she were still firing her Rigault heavy pistol, and the bolts of pale sapphire light failed to hit the figure.

The moment the shooter was on the ground, they went prone. She fired a couple of shots over their head before ducking back into cover. Another burst of bullets filled the air around the ship leg.

"Who is it?"

"I can't make out the face, but I'm betting it's that son of a bitch Kepper again," Tia answered. "Rigault must have sent him to kill us." She exposed her arm and opened fire in the general direction the attacker was coming from. Friction sparks and a sharp report spoke of the return fire that kept them pinned in.

Despite it, Tia tried to get another look. The man was getting closer. He wanted to bring the fight into point-blank range. Tia was more than ready to punch his lights out, but she knew better than to take this opponent lightly. It would be better if she nailed him with a shot.

But she couldn't. His suppressive fire was too much. If she exposed herself, she'd be killed. We need to hold out, but how? It's still minutes before Henry gets here.

A metallic clang sounded above their heads. Tia looked up in time to see a grenade fall near them. "Look out!" She grabbed Linh and pulled her away from the grenade.

There was a flash, a resounding boom, and a shockwave threw them into the tarmac so hard, they hit the ground rolling. Each rolled at least four times before coming to a stop. Despite being on the ground, Tia thought the world was coming out from under her. Her ears rang so loudly, she couldn't hear, and she couldn't quite see either as the flash left a remnant light in her vision that drowned out what was really there.

Get up. Get up, he's coming to kill you and Linh! Tia gritted her teeth and tried to stop her head from spinning when she raised it up from the ground. Her vision doubled, causing her to see two figures coming toward her instead of one, each a mirror of the other.

The mirrored figures were still at least ten meters away when their rifles came up in tandem. Move, she urged herself, but she couldn't. The world wouldn't stop spinning.

She was helpless to move when another supersonic crack filled the air.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Kepper fired the rifle.

And he missed.

As his finger tensed on the trigger, a bolt of brilliant blue light slammed into the rifle. The kinetic energy of the impact threw his aim off, sending the bullet into the asphalt instead of through Tia's forehead.

Miri held her pistol steady but couldn't help but look toward her stricken comrade to reassure herself that Tia was still alive. This cost her a critical second, allowing Kepper to scramble for the cover of another strut of the railed leg under the Venture Star. She fired at him repeatedly to no effect, as he got into the protective cover without taking any visible wounds.

She weighed her options. With his rifle gone, Kepper would likely try to break off, flee, and try again later. The risk to Tia's life that outcome represented was one that, to Miri, couldn't be borne. She had to stop him, now, and put him down. Henry and Wu will be here soon; we'll have him trapped. All I have to do is keep his attention.

She kept moving toward his position. "Kepper, give it up!" she called out, the pistol raised toward him. She had a disadvantage here, as the shape of the strut let him pick one of two sides to shoot from, and she couldn't cover both effectively. She had to pick, and she did.

Her choice proved wrong.

Kepper appeared from the other side of the strut. Miri brought her gun over and opened fire, but the loss of that critical moment allowed him to fire as well. A hot, wet pain filled her right arm, causing her hand to spasm and drop her silver-sheened pistol.

After a moment's panic, she realized her shot hit home as well, as Kepper let out a pained shout. His pistol hit the ground at his feet, and he, for a moment, cradled his wounded left hand. A faint smoke came from the charred flesh her shot left around his thumb and wrist. He snarled with frustration at her. Even with the distance, Miri thought she could see something beyond his usual professional detachment glint in his eyes. A rage, bestial and terrible, remained hidden behind them.

His right hand reached for his belt and pulled out a wicked-looking knife with a slightly curved blade. Miri ignored the pain burning in her wounded right arm and pulled her own combat knife, a weapon of similar length but straight-edged. She rushed toward him, a low battle cry coming from her throat to off-set him.

He matched it and came for her as well. Each went for a cut when they were close, causing their blades to briefly match and shriek from the collision of metal.

Miri knew she was in critical danger. The rage was gone from his eyes, but the cool detachment there was joined by confidence. This man knew his way with a knife, and something in his body language told her he ached to employ it. He was bigger than she, and most likely stronger. She needed to control the fight and keep her poise.

She struck again at him, aiming to slash him in the shoulder. Kepper caught the blow and deflected it. His knee came up for her belly and impacted. Pain shot through her midsection, but she kept her footing and her focus, counter-attacking by thrusting the knife at his neck. He moved to avoid a lethal blow, but not fast enough to avoid her blade slicing flesh along the right side of his neck and throat. Nothing vital was hit, but she had first blood.

She didn't get to enjoy it. His left elbow slammed into her forehead with enough force to stun her for the moment. His right hand shot forward, his blade aimed for her breast, and she had no choice but to use her left arm to absorb the blow.

She barely got the limb into place in time to prevent an early end to the fight. As it was, the blade plunged into flesh and muscle, sending pain shooting through that limb as well. He ripped the blade free and allowed her blood to flow from the resulting wound.

Her left arm screamed in protest at every movement as Kepper went on the offensive. He was agile for his size. His blade repeatedly jabbed at her throat and torso, forcing her into a desperate series of defensive movements to parry, block, and evade his attacks.

He's fighting differently. With each attempted strike, Miri became more convinced of that. He seemed eager to draw more blood, as if their wounds excited him. That excitement grew more obvious when he managed to cut her shoulder in a failed stab at her right lung. The cut stung, but it wasn't near anything vital.

Miri kept her feet set and bided her time. She was still a little faster, and Kepper's left hand was useless from the gunshot wound while her hands remained intact.

Here and there, his relentless attack resulted in another cut, another line of red, but none of the wounds were anywhere vital. Painful, yes, but she knew pain, and she ignored it. She kept her distance, led him about, and waited for her moment.


Kepper made a lunge that put him a little off-balance. Miri struck swiftly, evading his cut and driving her knife into his right wrist. He howled in pain as the blade cut through flesh, tendon, and ligaments. The blade fell from his limp hand.

She wasn't going to take chances. She brought up her right hand, the knife still clenched in her fist, and punched him hard. Kepper fell over from the force of the blow. Once he was down, she stopped down and delivered a couple more blows until his eyes rolled up in the back of his head. He settled into unconsciousness.

With her foe down, Miri turned her attention to her friends. Tia was finally getting back to her feet. Linh was still down but moving. "Are you two okay?" she asked.

"Are we okay?" Tia grinned at her despite the situation. "You're the one who looks like you've been wrestling with Yanik!"

Miri glanced down. Blood still poured from the wound in her left arm. Her suit was cut in multiple places from all the points where Kepper's blade sliced her. Each stung like hell, and the agony in her left arm was telling.

Despite the pain, she laughed at Tia's remark. "Yeah, I do," she admitted.

"Thank you." Tia's eyes went to her fallen attacker. "You saved our lives."

"You're welcome." Miri turned to her fallen enemy. "Looks like Rigault wants you dead now."

"It does." Tia frowned at Kepper. The look on her face said everything: the adrenaline crash was coming, and the fear she'd suppressed was taking a toll "Me and Linh, I'd say. I guess he doesn't care anymore about the amnesty. Now I'm wondering if we should just let this bastard bleed out or..."

The sentence trailed off. Miri noticed a glint in the Hestian woman's gray eyes. "What is it?"

"We need Kepper alive," Tia said. "We'll need him. I think we've got our ticket onto their shipyard."


Tia waited until the war council was fully assembled, in person or by link, before she spoke. "Rigault's assassin's given us an opportunity," she said. "We can use his ship to sneak a team onto their space station. It'll give us a good shot at seizing those cruisers."

That won their immediate attention. "How?" Sarno asked.

Tia nodded to Miri, who spoke up. "Kepper's ship isn't any normal transport. It's a League External Security personal operations vessel, usually given to senior League operatives. It's got heavy passive-stealth systems to undermine targeting locks and make detection harder. It will also confuse life sign scanners so they can't tell how many people are actually aboard."

Kaiya sounded more concerned than impressed. "And how did he manage this?"

"Knowing Kepper, it was probably by killing the prior owner," Henry said. "So what's the plan?"

"Take a team on the ship and slip onto Rigault's base," Tia said.

A few skeptical looks were the replies she received, although not from Henry. Kaiya gave voice to what had to be their common thought. "I doubt it will be that easy, Chairwoman."

"At minimum, we need a masking program ready so that video data appears to be from Kepper himself," Miri said. "A voiceprint for fake audio too."

"And that assumes Kepper is allowed on the station," Sarno added.

"That's probably where he stayed," Tia said. "With all the Leaguers in Thyssenbourg, or around Hestia, it's the only place Rigault could hide him."

There was silence while everyone considered her line of argument. Henry was the first to speak up. "Alright, that makes sense. What's our next problem?"

"Assuming Kepper is allowed to land, Rigault will likely make contact," Kaiya said. "Especially with his motivations being personal and not simply professional. He'll want to know, immediately, of your deaths."

"So we give him the appropriate imagery. I can arrange that," Miri offered.

"We have the hardware and software necessary," said Kaiya. "For both fake imagery of their deaths and to create a believable false visual layer overlaying Kepper with anyone else. But audio is different. We need a comprehensive audio sample of his speech."

Miri nodded in agreement. Her lips pursed into a concerned expression. "That's the hard part. Kepper will be unlikely to cooperate with us, and he's seen enough of our preparations he'll likely guess what we're after. He's going to intentionally throw off any attempt at gaining a voice sample."

"Do you think he can be persuaded to cooperate?" asked Lou via the link.

"For a price, sure," Henry said.

"Maybe, maybe not." Miri shook her head. "I've read CIS's dossier on him. Kepper's a psychopath, a sadistic serial killer who keeps his murderous urges in check by holding himself to strict principles of, for lack of a better term, professionalism."

"That didn't keep him from turning on the League back at Lusitania," Tia remarked.

"Commander Li tried to have him assassinated after he failed to capture me on Harron," Miri said. "To his code, that released him of any professional obligation to his employer. But we have no indications Rigault's done the same."

"Any way to find out?" Henry asked.

Miri nodded at him. "Yes. I'll go talk to him."

"Alright. We'll meet back here when you're done," said Tia.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Kepper awoke in an open cargo hold. The sting of treated injuries brought him to wakefulness quickly, which led to him checking his surroundings before he allowed himself the luxury of emotional reaction. The chamber he was in was fairly large, probably a secondary hold of sorts. He sat up on a cot and noted that his hands were cuffed together behind his back and his ankles, also cuffed, were tied to the floor by what he guessed was steel cable. In a visual scan of his surroundings, he noted a chemical toilet just within reach. The rest of the room was empty. Above the door, he spotted projectors for what he guessed was a forcefield cube. Coalition technology. Interesting. They're not taking chances with me.

His mind flashed back to his attack and the fight with Miri Gaon. His first impulse at remembering her was a desire to kill her in a number of bloody and painful ways, but the professional detachment soon returned. That he wasn't dead meant they thought they might have use for him, and it wasn't hard to guess the use, given some of the things he'd heard and seen coming in-system.

Escape, if possible. Strike a deal… There he stopped. Professional pride resisted the idea, and resisted it strongly. He had a contract and his employer hadn't betrayed him. Professional courtesy demanded he remain loyal to his employer.

An employer working with the League, he reminded himself. He says he needs me more, but he would say that, wouldn't he? Whether it was true or not.

Kepper weighed his trust of Antoine Rigault against his professional pride.

He hadn't made a decision yet when the forcefield projectors turned off. The hatch door opened with only a slight shriek of metal against metal. Miri stepped in. Her eyes focused entirely on him, as if he might at any moment lunge for her despite his restraints. But she said nothing.

They want something. Information? No, not just that. The Nimrod is perfect for infiltration. They want my ship.

A smile crossed Kepper's face at that thought. He had more power in this situation than he'd realized.

When Miri still didn't speak after a few moments, he decided to. "Hello, Miss Gaon." He kept his words very flat and stilted, maintaining a dull monotone. "You want something from me? A voice sample, perhaps, to fool my employer?"

The way her lips twitched told him he was right. "Very perceptive, Mister Kepper," she said. "And you're taking the obvious precautions to prevent me from recording useful audio samples."

He nodded. Again he felt the debate within himself, professional pride against self-preservation. Maybe, if I gain time, I can get an opening?

"I've read your dossier," Miri said.

"Oh? CIS has a dossier on me?" Kepper's smile grew. He kept the dull monotone going. "I should be flattered."

"Perhaps not." Miri reached out of the room and pulled in a chair from the hall, a basic metal frame with a plastic seat and back. She sat in it and brought her link up. "Their analysis is that you are a sociopath. Your avowed professionalism is nothing but a screen to cover for the sadistic serial killer that you truly are."

Kepper's smile faltered a little.

"You don't like that appraisal, do you?" Miri's lips formed a grin now. "No, you worry about your reputation a lot, after all. Who would hire you if they knew you were a psychopathic monster who wants to stab people just to watch them suffer and die? How could they trust you to not turn on them just for the thrill of the kill? Your reputation shields you."

He blinked and drew in a breath. His urges roiled within. "And yet you are willing to be in the room with me," he pointed out. "Alone."

"I am. After all, I've beaten you once, haven't I?" Her grin grew.

Kepper felt the twitch on his face before he could stop it. His urges screamed with need. He felt the burning desire to take a blade and ram it into this Coalition bitch over and over, to smell her blood and hear her agonized screams die away with her very life. He gathered his will and forced the images from his mind.

"You're not the first monster I've faced," Miri said matter-of-factly. "And to be perfectly honest, it's not even your previous attack on me that makes me despise you."

He sneered at her. "What about your Saurian friend, then? The one I crippled?"

"A little there, yes, I admit." Miri put the link up and crossed her arms. "But that, taking Tia, then trying to murder her and Linh… none of those things really make me despise you as much as one other thing."

"And that is?"

Her grin faded. "Vasily."

Kepper searched his memory. After a few moments, he smiled and shook his head. "I've killed a lot of people. I'm afraid I don't usually ask their names."

"Maybe not, but you know who I'm talking about." Her voice hardened. "We talked about this before the battle at Pluto Base. A man like you has to keep a good memory."

The smile became a smirk. "Well, I've got nothing new to say. As I told you before, it's part of the game. I'm not about to start begging forgiveness for killing the alien, if that's what you want."

"Oh, I know better." Miri leaned forward. "You do remember he was a convert, right?"

"A Christian convert, yeah. What of it?"

"Not just any sect or branch of that faith, Kepper. He was a member of the Old-Rite Orthodox Church of Cyrilgrad. They took his death very seriously, and by their laws, they claim jurisdiction for the murder. So let me make this clear." Her eyes hardened. "If you don't cooperate with us, Kepper, I'm going to turn you over to the Tokarev brothers. Personally. And if you're lucky, they'll just space you."

The steel in her eyes told him she wasn't lying. Knowing the Tokarevs, they'd make sure to make his spacing as violent and vicious as they could. His death would certainly not be merciful or kind.

That's how the work goes, he reminded himself. He knew going in he might die badly. He still had his pride.

That immediately prompted a deeper, more visceral emotional reaction. Damn pride; I want to live!

I'm a professional, this is how it goes. Even as he made that protest, it felt hollow, particularly given the very real likelihood that his life would soon end. Was he really going to die for pride? Was he willing to die for Antoine Rigault?

Miri's reciting of the CIS analysis on him was a reminder that Rigault knew too. He knew about Kepper's urges. He'd even offered to satiate them. He offered his own workers to me, for me to slaughter. Like I was a prize beast. The man doesn't care about professionalism at all. He just wants power over people. He's not a deserving employer at all.

The thought again piqued the professional side of Kepper. It also let his pride reconcile with his desire to save his life.

He sat back on his cot. "Alright, Gaon. I've made deals with you before. But I have terms."

"Tell me," she said.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Upon her return to the wardroom, Miri waited for the war council to be present before she started speaking. "I've secured a deal with Kepper for full cooperation."

"How?" asked Lou over the link. "He lives on his reputation of being a ruthless but loyal professional. Why would he turn on Rigault?"

"Because he doesn't want to end up in the custody of the Tokarev brothers," she answered. "He murdered one of their Harr'al converts when he was hunting me in Sektatsh. They'd kill him, and it wouldn't be kind. Sociopaths like Kepper usually pick their own lives in the end, whatever they say about professional standards."

"And what were his terms?" asked Tia.

"Whatever happens, he wants his ship back and his freedom." Miri slipped into a seat at the table. "In exchange, he'll provide a full voice sample for us, and let you scan his appearance for the false visual return. He's also going to provide the appropriate landing codes and what knowledge he has of the Rigault Lunar Station's interior."

"He helps us, he goes free." Tia frowned. "We let him do that before, and look at what he ended up doing. Besides, he's probably murdered at least some of our other comrades while working for Rigault. I'm just supposed to let him walk away?" She cast a glance toward Shahkrit and Linh, who nodded in agreement with the sentiment.

Henry shook his head. "He's still our best shot at getting aboard that station." Miri nodded in agreement with Henry, who added, "I'd recommend taking it. But it's your call."

Miri saw the way Tia's eyes narrowed in thought. It was clear she didn't want to just let Kepper go. "I don't want him free again either," Miri said. "But if we're going to make this operation work in time, we can't pass up this opportunity."

"I know, I know." Tia's answer was fiercely stated. "There's no way around this? No way we can get that voice sample without his cooperation?"

"None." Kaiya shook her head. "He has to be speaking normally. If he's under physical duress or drugged, it will corrupt the sample and make the deception clear."

Tia's fists clenched. After several moments, she glanced again toward Linh and Shahkrit. "Our comrades would be more interested in saving Hestia." It was statement more than question.

"They would," Shahkrit agreed. "Our people must come first."

Linh nodded in agreement.

"Alright. But before I agree…" Tia walked around the table toward the door. "I need to go see someone."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Yanik was eating a quiet meal when Tia entered his shared quarters on the Majha. He looked up at her from the common table. "You are angry," he noted.

"I am. Because I have to…" Tia bit her lip. "Yanik, it's about Kepper."

His eyes blinked, and not for moisture. "I assume this is about his fate."

"He'll help us stop Rigault and the League if we free him when it's over," she said. "The others are ready to agree, but I want you to have a say, given what he did to you."

Yanik's tongue flicked the air rapidly. His anger toward the mercenary who maimed him grew. His right arm and shoulder ached in sympathy with the thought of letting Kepper go like that. I want to rip his arms off. I want to cripple him, to see my wound avenged! His taloned fists clenched. "He is our only hope for victory," Yanik remarked.

"Looks like it, yeah," Tia said. "We're still doing this, but… I'm not sure we can remove the cruisers from Rigault's forces without his help."

"I agree." Yanik let that thought fill him. His comrades, his friends, would face death or capture if they failed, and this man's fate was tied to the outcome. I must go unavenged so that the greater evil can be stopped. Divine, how you test me so!

"If you don't want us to let him go…" Tia began.

He let that sentence linger off for a few seconds before he rumbled a reply. "What I want is immaterial," he said. "Krassha is clear. My retribution must be sacrificed to save your world, so I shall agree with the deal. Allow the mercenary to go free when this is done."

She nodded. "I know how much it hurts," she said. "After everything he did on Allentown, or back in Sektatsh. And he probably killed at least some of my old comrades before he was sent after me. I want justice too."

"Justice and revenge are tightly linked," Yanik hissed. "It can be hard to tell one from the other. But whether it is justice or revenge we seek, we must set it aside for now. The good of your people demands it." There was no need to state the obvious. He noted the nod of her head as sufficient agreement and returned to his meal.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia returned to the wardroom. The others were waiting. "What was that about?" Sarno asked gently, her face showing on the vidlink from her office at St. Francis.

"I had to speak with someone else that Kepper harmed," she explained. "Someone who deserved a voice in his fate."

"I see." Sarno nodded quietly. The old nun's face continued to show that reserved expression she seemed to prefer, when she wasn't trying to be outwardly warm. "It was thoughtful of you to consult others affected by this cruel man. But the matter must still be decided, and our time is growing short. Will you deal with this assassin? Will you let him go?"

"For the good of my people, and all of Sagittarius, yes."

"Then I'll go to him now and get the voice sample," Miri said.

"Please do, Miss Gaon." Tia returned to her seat and took in the sight of the others, those on the vidlink or in person, focusing their eyes on her. "The rest of us need to get busy. Mother Sarno's right. We're running out of time."

She drew in a breath, aware of the weight of what she was saying. She couldn't help but feel it, an oppressive force weighing her very being down with the responsibility of what lay ahead. The fate of her world, maybe even the whole galaxy, was going to be decided by her actions, and history written accordingly.

She thought of her uncle, remembered the intent look of his gray eyes, the way he'd rub at the patch of black and gray hair on his chin whenever he was being thoughtful. Uncle Guillaume, is this how you felt when you and Comrade Thaksin made the decision to launch our revolution the last time? Is this why your spirit seemed so heavy when we last spoke? I wish I could ask you for advice, but all I can do is get justice for your suffering and murder.

Seeing the others were still waiting for the word, even Lou, she folded her hands on the table. "For our people, all of our peoples across Sagittarius, even the innocents in the League itself, we must act now. We have everything we need, or at least, we will by the time we jump into Hestia." She directed her eyes to the images of Lou and Sarno when she said that. "It's time to get our fleet moving. Any further shipments of materials can rendezvous with us on the way."

"I'll have my fleet coordinate with yours," Lou pledged. "They'll have the last of the war material, troops, and crews for those cruisers."

"I'll get Kepper's codes and go down to fly the Nimrod up," Miri said. "By the time we get there, Captain Chagger's people and I will have the ship ready to transmit Kepper's image and voice over our own."

"We'll begin embarkation immediately," added Sarno. "And I will also arrange for our incoming ships to meet us before the final jump to Hestia."

Tia's eyes went to Linh. Her friend nodded, and her metal hand clenched into an eager fist. "The Venture Star is ready to launch and Cera and Piper are in position to fly her, I just need to give the word to Pieter and Samina to fire the engines up."

"Give it." Tia's eyes set on Henry's last. "It's all going to rely on you, Jim. Are you ready for this?"

He smiled gently. Again, his demeanor seemed changed from what it'd been before, a certainty showing in his eyes and expression that rarely showed during all those years she'd served on the Shadow Wolf with him. Is this what he was like in his CDF days? she wondered. When he gave his answer, it was firm, and it was confident. "I'm ready. It's what I'm here for."

"I'm glad to hear it." She stood from her seat. "Let's go."


It took all of Antoine's patience and control to keep his anger contained before he returned to his office from the latest Business Council meeting. Damn them all was the sentiment that most dominated his thoughts, and he finally gave it voice once he was alone. "Ungrateful bastards!" He dropped himself into his chair and nursed his anger.

Despite everything, the Council still wasn't entirely on board with the neural implants. They wouldn't block his new law, but they wouldn't be employing the implants in their own companies. They wanted to let Rigault take the blame and weather the storm.

I should put them down. Once the fleet's fully ready, I don't need the HBC anymore!

He let that thought stew while he checked the status on the cruisers. Their trial runs in-system were complete. The crews on the lunar station reported the first cruiser would be ready for launch within the next couple of days. Being aboard for the launching would be a pleasure to cap his success in the upcoming Assembly vote.

After calming himself down, Antoine checked his messages. The day-to-day messages were the usual, records of arrested strikers or shirkers, discoveries of unauthorized food plots or hunting activity with arrests as well. More subjects for Doctor Breivik, he thought.

But there was no message from Kepper.

It might take him time to find them, Antoine reminded himself. Neutral Space was large, after all, and his own intel networks were only strong where Rigault had holdings. Kepper would find his marks, that was what he was known for. He just had to be patient.

Yet it was hard to be. Things were coming to a head now, and he wanted—frankly, needed—Kepper available. He needed his help against Aristide if the League made any unkind moves, or barring that, Kepper's skill made him an excellent asset for when the time came to start building his empire. He had enemies in the Company that had to be eliminated so he could be in charge. And the HBC would soon outlive all usefulness to him.

Those bloodless fools. It was like he was the only one sitting on the Council who understood what capital, what wealth, was for. To them, it was all numbers, and the higher the number, the better. But they had no desire to actually use what those numbers represented!

Wealth is a means to an end. They don't see it, Rene doesn't, none of them. With the power we wield, we could all be kings. And it is the kings who are written into history, not corporate executives. A smile slowly crept over his face. And soon, I will be a king.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

For Jan Breivik, the new lab on Rigault's station provided for tighter working spaces. He found himself utilizing every square centimeter of lab space as was humanly possible, including wall-mounted shelves for some of his supplies and equipment.

Sitting in front of him was a young Hestian man. His eyes were still red from the terrified tears he'd been shedding before the implant was turned on and control of his facial muscles assumed. Breivik watched quietly as his assistant scientists operated the man's limbs through the controls, moving him around and prompting him to stand and sit.

This isn't what we're supposed to be focusing on, Breivik pondered bitterly. Motor control was just the first phase. He wanted to start testing for the finer control involved in thought interaction. Commander Aristide's orders are clear, he reminded himself. Rigault's needs come first.

Observing the testing, he jotted down another note. Subject continues to function as needed for purposes of controlled labor. Projected failure rate likely below one percent, but that is a figure I wish to bring further down. We cannot have one in a hundred, or even one in a thousand, suffering from debilitating physiological issues linked to implant use, or the device's primary purpose is undermined. More testing is still required.

While jotting down the note, Breivik's thoughts wandered once again. Ever since he saw that Tam'si woman and endured the pain she'd inflicted on him, he couldn't keep Oskar out of his head.

At first, the thoughts were entirely bitter. Oskar's sabotage and desertion cost him years of work, with unwelcome scrutiny from Internal Security that interfered with rebuilding the project. External Security's arrangement on Hestia gave him a reprieve from that scrutiny, but they expected, demanded, results. Antoine Rigault was even worse.

Gradually, that bitterness gave way before the warm memories of their careers spent helping each other out. Their work brought them together, but their need for friendship in Sagittarius kept them there. The cruelties of the socialization camps wounded them both. Why couldn't you have just worked with me, Oskar? he wondered. We could've ended those cruelties together. With your implant, there will be no more anti-Social thought. No more need for socialization camps. Why couldn't you understand that?

Still… maybe there was time. If he was still alive after all of these years, then maybe… maybe he could be convinced. Reasoned with!

"Doctor." One of his medical assistants approached. She looked to be mostly recovered from her run-in with the lab invaders and her injuries at their hands, a thought that reminded him of his own injuries. She handed him a tablet. "The autopsy results you wanted."

"Thank you, Doctor Woods." He looked the results over. Male, age 22, died of cerebral hemorrhaging during testing. He read the rest of the information. "You believe it was the implant, then?"

"A manufacturing fault; the implant didn't perform properly. The hemorrhage was the result of an overload in the CNS."

"I see. Have Dr. Kurabashi look over the implant in question, see if the manufacturing fault can be identified."

"Yes, Doctor."

She walked away. Breivik returned his attention to the current test. His mind lingered over the dead man. He wasn't the first subject to die in this work, and each one was a loss.

But it will be worth it. The end to all suffering will make it worth it, he insisted to himself.


A distant M4 star did little to illuminate the hulls of the small armada gathering near one of the star's orbiting gas giants. The ships were arranged around the automated helium-3 station that gathered the vital element from the gas giant's atmosphere for use by passing ships.

Henry looked over the sleek silvery shape of the Nimrod and drew in a breath. A feeling he'd been missing for over sixteen years came to him, combining the anticipation of danger with the certainty that it would be all right. It's been a long time since I've felt this way. It's like I'm back in the CDF and we're about to get into a fight with the League. He drew in a breath and silently prayed, "Heavenly Father, Lord of Hosts, help us out here."

"Everything all right?"

He turned his head. Miri walked up in the same model of unpowered combat suit he had. She'd evidently completed her final pre-flight check. "Just praying," he said.

"I see."

"You've got everything you need from Kepper?"

"Yes. Combined with what intel I could get from other sources, we should be able to get where we need to. And the Nimrod's systems are set to transmit the false video and audio returns. I'm going to play Kepper if we get confronted. I know how to sound like him better than you."

"So you do." He noted it wasn't a boast. "Wu's ready?"

"Lewis is still not recovered from his wounds, so he's staying behind. Wu is bringing the rest."

He let out a low whistle. "Nine of us against a space station, then. At least until the others come in. Who's commanding on the Venture Star since you're with me and Yanik's with Tia?"

Miri grinned. "It's going to be Piper. She looked like someone was about to land the ship on her head."

Henry let out a belly laugh. "'Deer in the headlights' look; that sounds about right."

"So it does." Miri grinned at him. "These past couple of weeks, you seem like a new man, Captain. I'm glad to see it. Have you given any thought about what you'll be doing when this is over?"

"Assuming we win?"

"Assuming we win, yes."

Henry nodded and grinned. "Well, I don't know. The Venture Star's a good ship, at least. And it's not like I'm welcome in the Coalition right now. Maybe I'll take her out on a trading run to the Jewel Box. Just to see what it's like that far out."

"I think I would like that," Miri said. "Long term?"

"Don't know about that," he admitted. "And honestly, even the Jewel Box thing might have to wait. The League's still going to be an issue. I've had some ideas about it, but it's going to have to wait until we see how this turns out."

The far door opened. Wu entered with his entire team, save the injured Captain Lewis. Henry knew only a few by face: the Levantine Lt. Sadiq, Canaan-born Lt. Sanchez, and the team's medic, Lt. Emily Waters, a New Appalachian whose CDF uniform bore a faith patch of a Seventh-day Adventist. "Coming in uniform?" he asked.

"Damn right we are," Wu said emphatically. "Rhodes can kiss our backsides. Just because she's blind to the threat of the League doesn't mean she gets to dictate that to us."

"You're officially rogues; you know what that means."

The entire team nodded. "Rigault can summarily execute us, yeah. Like they wouldn't already."

"Alright." Henry wasn't about to protest their choice. Rhodes can kiss my ass too. "Go ahead and stow your things. We're leaving soon."

The team moved on to the airlock. As they entered the hold door opened again. Tia walked in with Yanik and Linh. Henry walked up to them. "Everything ready?"

"We've got every ship we can get," she said. "A couple of independent spacers are with the fleet too. People who don't like the HBC any more than we do." She frowned. "Still no sign of our other allies. I haven't heard anything either. Maybe they're not coming."

"We knew it'd take them a while to get everything together, so they may not show up until this thing has started," Henry said. "No word doesn't mean much, since they don't want to tip off the League or Rigault either. Whatever happens, don't lose faith."

"Funny to hear you say that." Tia chuckled. "Actually, just seeing you like this is… it's odd. And inspiring. But mostly odd."

Henry laughed. "I can imagine. You're used to the Jim Henry who just wanted to survive."

"Well, as many good times as we had, I'm glad to have this Henry here in the fight instead. I actually like him a lot."

"You wouldn't in other situations," he pointed out, chuckling again. "I'd be getting us into a lot of trouble around Neutral Space."

"I guess that's true. But right now, we need it. We're going up against a tough fight."

"Is Linh going with you?" Henry asked.


After Tia provided the immediate answer, Linh spoke up to give the explanation. "I'm going aboard the Venture Star," she said. "You're going to need trained engineers on those Rigault cruisers. I'll be working on one of them."

"Alright. I'll see you station-side."

The conversation was due to end, but saying so proved unnecessary. Tia's link let out a tone and she answered it. "Yes?"

"Chairwoman Nguyen, the last of our ships have arrived," Sarno said. "We await your transfer to the San Papa Gregorius."

"I'm on my way, Mother Sarno." Tia ended the call. "That's it, then. We'll be waiting for word to jump in."

"We won't keep you waiting long," Henry promised. "Good luck down there, and Godspeed."

A small smile crossed her face. "I'm the agnostic, remember?"

"Yeah, but I'm no longer the lapsed Methodist," he playfully retorted.

"Well then, for luck… Godspeed, Captain Henry."

"Indeed." Yanik nodded. "May we uphold Krassha and win the blessing of the Divine."

They parted ways. Henry had faith it wouldn't be for the last time.


The Nimrod went first. Miri jumped the League-built ship straight to the lunar L2 point. Kepper suggested it as something he'd do and Rigault would expect. It minimizes the amount of time the ship could be spotted by a League vessel en route to the station, Miri recalled.

Wu and his team were in the cabin area behind the cockpit checking their gear. Henry sat beside her, acting as co-pilot and watching the comms and sensors. "The Venture Star just jumped in at the solar L2," he said. "They're on course to Hestia at a slow burn. There's a cutter heading for them. Now it's time to see if Lou's ID codes work."

Henry couldn't patch in to the comms, so they could only sit and watch as the cutter drew ever closer to the Venture Star. After several minutes, it changed course. They breathed a small sigh of relief.

She regretted it a moment later when Henry spoke up again. "Incoming transmission. I'm setting up the fake voice and visual return." After a moment, he added, "There. You're good."

Miri drew in a breath. She thought of Kepper, of what it was like to be him, to be that confident murderer hiding his sadistic impulses under a shell of professional demeanor.

The cockpit screen added a visual display to show Antoine. From his surroundings, Miri figured it was in his office. "Kepper, what took you so long?

"It took some time to track them down, Director," she answered. "Then I had to isolate them to make sure I tagged the marks." She reached over and tapped at the controls for the comms. She set the system to transfer the fake image of Tia and Linh after being fatally stabbed. "Got them both in the end. Close work, some of my best."

Antoine's eyes glinted with satisfaction. His electronic eye made that particularly disturbing. "Well done. As always, you get your marks." Pleasure filled his voice. "I will see you as soon as I finish with the legislature. I have more jobs for us to plan. We are coming to the culmination of my plans, and you will be quite busy over the next few weeks."

"Sounds good to me. I'll hear from you later." Miri had just enough time to finish saying that before Antoine ended the call. She breathed out a second, deeper sigh of relief. "He didn't seem suspicious."

"No, but with someone like that, you can't always tell." Henry glanced back toward the cabin. "Major, just to be on the safe side, get your people ready for Plan B."

"As if you have to ask," Wu replied.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

With the call over, Antoine took a moment to enjoy the image of his dead enemies. Kepper's knife work was thorough.

What little conscience Antoine had made him reconsider one of his uses for Kepper. Maybe I can just ease Rene out… no. That won't work. Sorry, cousin, but you lack vision. I'll just ask Kepper to make sure it's quick.

A prickle of doubt came to him. What if this was a trick? It'd taken Kepper quite a while, hadn't it? Could he have been turned to work for the other side?

He pushed that thought away. Paranoia is part of being a ruler, but I should know better than to let it control me.

Still, it didn't hurt to be certain, and he had to ensure the League was kept far from Kepper.

He tapped on his link to initiate a call to the Lunar Station. "Security, I want to have a team assigned to where the Nimrod lands," he said. "There is no issue with the pilot. I simply wish to be assured of his safe arrival and transfer to his lodgings."

"Understood," replied the security dispatcher on the other end.

With that done, his eyes checked the clock on the wall. It was time to get to the Assembly. The session to approve the enabling law for the neural control implants was beginning shortly.

Just another step on my road to power, he thought contentedly as he rose to leave.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Henry checked the monitors while they were on final approach to the station. He took a moment to view the station proper as it loomed ever larger through the cockpit.

Rigault's Hestia Lunar Station was fixed in orbit over the planet's moon by a space elevator. The elevator's cars came in a regular cycle with the proceeds of the automated lunar mines. At three kilometers long, the station was decently sized.. Much of its volume was used for ore processing, but there were several large docks for repairs and loading. Four of them had the cruisers they were here to steal.

The station itself was a single shape, a beveled cylinder with the ore-processing areas on the "lower" side nearest the tether and the various docks and hangars towards the top, along with living areas.

The station's traffic control updated their approach course on an active link. The data guided Miri toward one of the small docks for senior station personnel.

Both of them were in Rigault uniforms, the same they wore in the earlier raid. This time, though, the uniforms were only meant to gain a moment's advantage, not to fool enemy personnel. There was little chance of that working so well again.

Miri eased the Nimrod into the assigned hangar with care, turning the ship to point the bow toward the exit. Henry kept his eyes on the monitors and noticed the welcoming committee. "A pair of guards, it looks like. Waiting for Kepper."

Miri's brow furled. "Rigault must be suspicious of something."

"Or he's taking precautions. Either way, we go to Plan B."

She grinned at him. "Given our usual luck, I'm surprised we had 'Plan A' to start with."

While Miri brought the ship in, Henry went back to the cabin. A simple nod to Wu was all he needed to communicate the issue.

The team walked toward the back of the ship. The engine compartment was mostly automated as the ship was meant for a single operator. Hatches provided entries to the crawlways that gave direct physical access to some of the systems such as the engines. The central reactor core had its own hatch for accessing its vital parts.

One hatch was not like these others, however. It led to a shielded compartment with another hatch on the opposite end. There he waited with Wu's team.

The beep that came over his link told him Miri was in position. He nodded to Wu before working on the far hatch. It opened to reveal the station hangar. After a visual scan told him no guard was looking his way at the moment, Henry swung the hatch out completely and climbed out. He gestured toward the others to follow and rounded the ship to check on the main airlock. The security guards were gone, having presumably boarded the ship. Seconds passed with nobody coming out, a sign that he found increasingly concerning.

Finally, the airlock did slide open. Miri stepped out, looking a little winded but otherwise fine. "I've got them restrained and taken care of," she said. "But it won't take long for trouble to start. We need to get moving." She held out a link to him. "I took their links. The hangar's surveillance might be shut off, but I didn't want to risk the monitors tracking their links. This way, they'll see movement."

"I'm with you on that." Henry hefted his rifle and led her back to Wu and his team. "Let's hustle."

The group exited the private hangar. They followed the route Kepper shared with them to leave the area and head toward the station's inner sectors. Along the way, they passed station personnel here and there without reaction or interaction. The local workforce seemed more interested in not coming to the attention of station security. I guess Hestia's not the only world where Rigault's people act like jackboots.

The internal signs helpfully indicated the final turns toward auxiliary control. The room itself was manned by four people, two men and two women, wearing operations uniforms instead of security.

One of the men turned toward them and spoke with a Franco-African accent. "What is it? What is wrong?"

Here we go. With that thought in his head, Henry brought his rifle up. "Away from the stations. You too." He swung the weapon over to the second man. "Everyone away from the stations and you won't get hurt."

Wu's team moved quickly to begin securing them. Looking rather nervous now while Wu put tie-straps on his wrists, the lead operations officer spoke again. "What are you doing? What is this? We haven't done anything!"

"Just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Henry assured them. "Stay quiet and you'll be fine when this is over."

Miri and Sanchez were already at work. "I'm going to reroute controls to us, but they'll know something's up."

"In positions, now." Wu and his people started taking up positions behind control displays and tables. Henry found his own position near the upper console, putting him close to their captives.

"Alright, I'm re-routing controls down here now," Sanchez said.

Miri was already working away at her station. "Nimrod team to Venture Star, we're in. I say again, we're in. Killing comms systems now." After she finished speaking, Miri tapped several more keys. "It's not as good as shooting out the actual transceivers, but I'm locking up their comms by putting it in an access request loop for a ghost GalNet site. It should take them some time to undo it."

A moment later, a klaxon filled the air. Lights flashed red above their heads. "They must've hit the alarms," Wu said.

"They likely have a hardline for that." Sanchez shook her head. "I can't turn it off."

"What about internal sensors?" Henry asked. "What've you got for us there?"

"I'm having to lock that down too; otherwise, they'd use them as well," she replied. "It's the best I can do."

"Whatever you want, just don't kill us!" one of their captives screamed. It was the second of the men, a thin Caucasian with brown hair cut short. "We just work for Rigault. We don't decide policy."

"We're not here to kill you," Henry replied. He turned his head to face them. "This isn't about you at all. Just stay down and keep quiet, and you'll make it out of this alive, I promise."

The promise did little, as all four were clearly terrified out of their minds.

Minutes passed. While Miri and Sanchez continued their work of tying down the station's systems, everyone settled in for the prospect of a firefight. The familiar "hurry up and wait" sensation brought Henry to checking over his assault rifle. It was a surplus Coalition pulse rifle, a CRP-2525, preferentially used by second-line units on space stations and ships after the wholesale changeover to ballistic weaponry by the TCMC. He remembered training with one during his early years in the service as part of anti-boarding drills. While it was a decent weapon, he found he missed the family rifle he'd lost with the Shadow Wolf.

There was a low buzz in the air, followed by a soft glow from one door. Henry looked toward the door, on the far side of where they entered, and noticed the dull orange as it grew brighter. Sparks began a colorful eruption from the orange spot as it slowly moved across the surface. "Looks like they're onto us," Wu said. "Everyone assume positions! Breathers on!"

Henry reached into the Rigault jacket and brought out a breather unit. It was a partial face mask for the nose and mouth tied to a filter and a container of concentrated oxygen-nitrogen blend gas for breathing without an atmosphere.

As the cutting continued, Miri and Sanchez dropped into cover. "We've tied them up as much as we can," Sanchez reported while pulling her breather from her gear. "They won't be able to kill life support, call for help, use internal comms, or use internal sensors or their tactical systems. The ship can make its approach safely."

"Well done, ladies." Wu's tone was genuinely congratulatory, but not with any enthusiasm. "Everyone hold fire until the door's blown."

A chorus of "Yes, sir!" came from the rest of the team as they waited through the last seconds of peace.

Henry breathed silently. You've seen me through this much, Lord. Please see us through this. Tia and the others are counting on us.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The bridge of the Venture Star was about the same as the Shadow Wolf's, but the layout was distinctly different. The command chair was near the back while the individual stations were arrayed in a fan around it.

From her seat in said chair, Piper could look to her right to face communications and shop operations, where Brigitte was seated. The left was her old sensor post, now occupied by Vidia. Cera had the helm, naturally, directly ahead, and astrogation was tied directly into her controls as well. Along the side walls were auxiliary panels, and instead of the entire front wall being a liquid crystal display, a holographic viewscreen could be activated and controlled from Vidia's station. Towards the rear side was the hatch leading to manual astrogation.

Everything about the bridge was better. That only made Piper pine more for the lost Shadow Wolf.

The holo-viewscreen now showed the Rigault Lunar Station. She asked, "Any sign of defenses being active?"

"No," Brigitte replied.

Even if there were… Piper wondered about that. Would she risk the lives of the few hundred people in the ship's holds to try and save nine people? Captain Henry's one of them; yes, I would! She knew that thought was wrong, but she couldn't push it away.

To her gratitude, no such need materialized. The Venture Star burned in without opposition. The defensive mounts remained silent.

They picked one of the big cargo-transfer hangars to land in. Three rail lines there were joined by ore loading equipment and controls.

She also noted the multiple figures crouched and holding up assault rifles and other firearms. "It looks like they're ready for us," she said. "Think we could find another hangar?"

"They've probably got teams in all o' them," Vidia said. "The Captain needs us ta be quick."

"Alright. Cera, finish bringing us in. Brig?"

"Activating point-defense emplacements."

Brigitte brought the Venture Star's auto-turrets online. The weapons swiveled on gimbal mounts to face the security teams, who scrambled for cover in the moment before the weapons opened fire. The weapons accelerated strips of metal to lethal velocities, sending sparks flying from the floor hull of the hangar as they tracked their fire toward the enemy.

With all of the ore-hauling equipment in the hangar, there was decent cover, and with a couple of exceptions, the Rigault security troops found successful cover.

That's it, then, thought Piper. It's up to the boarding teams. She triggered the intercom. "Captain Nhan, Sister Innocentia, you're up."


The holds carrying the boarding teams opened one by one. From each came a combination of armed Hestians wearing a gold star on black and red arm band and teams from the Little Sisters in white combat armor. Piper noticed their helmets had the same arrangement of red stones as their veils did.

"Cera, stay here." Piper stood and nodded to Vidia and Brigitte. "We're going to join the others. They'll need every gun."

"Aye. Just be sure t' come back in one piece."

Piper nodded and left the bridge by the rear door, the others close on her heels.

Rushing through the unfamiliar ship—her mind still thought in terms of the Shadow Wolf's layout—gave Piper time to feel the familiar fear and terror of imminent combat. Firefights and shootouts were one thing, but this was another. Megacorps security troopers were usually military-trained, putting them above many bounty hunters, outlaws, and pirates that were their usual foes. If it weren't for the others, she was certain she'd freeze up.

They entered one of the port holds. One of Lou's hired armorers grabbed rifles from a stand and handed them to the three as they ran by. She took the offered weapon and felt transported back in time by nearly twenty years, to when Grandpa Carlos took her hunting in the savannahs of the Tohono O'odham lands on Sanctuary. Granted, that was an old gunpowder hunting rifle; this is a Coalition military pulse rifle.

They emerged from the hold to find the battle already swinging their way. Between the numbers, the Sisters' stun grenades, and the cover fire offered by the Venture Star's auto-turrets, the Rigault security troops were falling back towards the hangar door with heavy loss.

Piper raised the rifle, ready to fire at opponents, but there was no need. By the time she was close enough to get a shot, the last Rigault squad went down to a stun grenade blast. "Secure the hangar!" shouted a Hestian voice. A squad of Lou's mercenaries rushed to do so.

"Sisters, forward. The station must fall quickly!" The words, spoken in a Slavic accent, prompted the white-armored women to leave the hangar at a steady pace. The Hestians followed.

"I wonder how many security troops Rigault has aboard?" Brigitte pondered aloud. "Do we have enough?"

"Probably." Hopefully. Piper took out her link. It showed Henry's as an active connection again, allowing her to call him. "We're aboard, Captain."

The sounds of gunfire echoed through the link. "Good," came the answer. "Because we're going to need backup."


The only thing that competed with the sound of gunfire in auxiliary control was the frightened cries of the four operations staff. They alternated between languages as they called out for the shooting to stop or, at least, for the mercy of whoever won.

From his firing point, Henry felt a combination of sympathy and irritation. They didn't ask to get pulled into this war. They're just folks doing a job, he reminded himself of the desire he felt for them to, frankly, shut up.

Both doors were breached and the site of at least three fallen bodies apiece. There were more wounded and dead, Henry was certain, given how vigorously the Rigault teams pushed their attacks, but they'd pulled the wounded back with them after each failed attack.

Another push came. Plasma bolts flew over and around Henry's head from the suppressive fire. He couldn't properly aim the rifle, but he didn't need to so long as he kept it in the general direction of the door while pulling the trigger. The slight recoil kick of the rifle sent brief tremors down his arms.

"Hold on just a little longer!" Wu called out.

A grenade flew through the air, sailing toward the position held by Woods and Osterman. Woods snatched the device and lobbed it back. A split second after it was in the air, it went off, filling Auxiliary Command with light and noise. The flash nearly blinded Henry. As his eyes returned to normal, everything seemed to have an afterimage that blurred his vision.

The Rigault forces chose that moment to make their biggest surge, coming through both doors. With Woods completely blinded for the moment and Osterman struggling, the fire on the door slackened considerably. Two Rigault men made it through and took up a position toward the corner of the room, using the control systems as cover as well.

Henry's vision cleared enough for him to see what he was shooting at. He noticed the partial enemy success and called out, "They've got people in, watch your backs! We need more fire on the opposite side!"

Miri turned her attention from the far door. The addition of her firepower restored some of their suppressive ability, but at the cost of the other door being more vulnerable. The enemy squads there quickly tried to push forward in conjunction with their comrades on the opposite end. The two soldiers in the room maintained their own fire, adding to the infiltration team's woes.

"We've got another one!" Wu called out. "On this side! He's—"

A bolt of plasma struck the side of his head. Henry watched him fall lifelessly to the ground with a heavy heart. The old, familiar pain of seeing a comrade die hadn't lost any of its sting. Godspeed, Major. You're off to a better place, he thought solemnly. And we may be joining you soon.

With Wu gone, he was in full command of the team, for all the good it did. Their situation was more untenable by the moment.

Or, at least, it seemed that way. Henry recognized that the fire coming from one of the doors was slackening. Soon it faded entirely. The only fire still coming from that direction was from the two security troops who'd slipped in.

While those troopers still laid suppressive fire against Miri and Sanchez's position, Henry had a chance to glance at the door. He could make out Brigitte's face despite the helmet she'd donned. Help's here, he realized. Hallelujah.

Not that this meant the battle was over. We're going to run behind schedule if we don't finish this. Henry reached to his belt and pulled one of his last remaining grenades. He called out "Grenade!" before tossing it toward the troopers on his side.

The weapon flew through the air, bounced off the control station they were hiding behind, and rolled into the space between them. A moment later, a bright burst of light and energy came, accompanied by a pair of thuds.

Brigitte moved in with Vidia and Piper behind them. They moved with the skill of a team, if not that of a military force, taking cover in the same place the Rigault troopers had.

Nor were they alone. A squad of white-armored Sisters followed them in. Their weapons were firing stun bolts, as expected, and their arrival quickly put an end to the enemy push. They took cover momentarily before pressing on, as Wu's team quickly and efficiently provided cover fire for them.

Henry moved up to help, but that quickly proved unnecessary. The security forces outside the opposite door were under fire from two directions, with another relief column coming up on their rear. After barely ten more seconds, they were all down.

He walked up to his crew, Miri at his side. "Glad to see you made it," he said. He grinned at Piper, who looked uncomfortable in the combat helmet she'd borrowed from the Sisters. "You did well, First Mate Lopez. Or maybe Captain Lopez by the time this is over."

"No. Please, I just want to chart stars," she pleaded.

"You still did well," he said. He clapped her on the shoulder. "You've reason to be proud."

Her cheeks blushed a little. Brigitte grinned at her while Vidia nodded. "I told ya it would be fine."

One of the Sisters approached them. She was an older woman, likely in her fifties, and spoke English with a strong Slavic accent. "Captain, you are not hurt?"

"I'm not," he said. "You are?"

"Sister Clementia," the woman answered. "Sister Innocentia wanted me to let you know we have already made great strides in securing the station. Between your defense of this command center and the forces they sent trying to hold us off the station, we have already defeated the majority of their security troops."

"The rest might still make a fight of it," he warned. "We should secure the cruisers next, to make sure any testing crews don't launch before we can get there."

"We anticipated the need. The Hestians under Captain Nhan are already securing the docks."

"Then we're managing to pull this off." Henry glanced toward Wu's fallen body. "It's cost us enough already."

Clementia breathed a quiet prayer and signed the Cross with her fingers. "God will see to his soul. I will—"

Before she could finish, his link beeped. He brought it out and hit the answer button on the side. "I'm here."

Oskar spoke, and his tone sent a tingle of dread through Henry's spine. "Captain. There's something you need to see, that you all need to see."

Henry swallowed. I need to get to those cruisers as soon as possible… but Oskar might have found something important. "We're on our way."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Captain Nhan and Sister Innocentia joined Henry and the others on their way to Oskar's location, in the ore storage facilities of the station.

They entered one such storage room through sliding double doors. Inside, Oskar and two more Sisters, acting as his escorts, were waiting. Each was pale, a condition the arriving group soon shared.

Three rows of gurneys each bore a Hestian strapped down upon it, at least fifteen gurneys in each row. They ranged in age from the elderly to children who'd yet to reach adolescence. Each was clad in a simple paper gown. Many had their eyes closed, and none of those with open eyes seemed responsive.

To go with the sight, a mixture of stenches filled the room, ones recognizable to any who had ever been around dead bodies.

Innocentia crossed herself, her face twisted into a rictus of horror. "Holy Mother of God. What is this?"


The tears in his eyes were telling. He looked broken, guilty, as he met their eyes with his own. "I've done a few scans," he said. "Some of them are dead, others unconscious or barely reactive. All have the neural control device implanted on their spines and show signs of suffering hemorrhagic strokes and nerve damage. I would have to guess these are the results of stressing the implant's control over the brain." His voice wavered. "Jan must be attempting to reach direct control of the brain's other processes, not just motor control."

Brigitte's fists clenched. "Bloody wanker. I knew I should've killed him when I had the chance."

"Any sign of the scientists?" Henry asked.

"There were no others here, Captain," one of Oskar's escorts said. "Merely these poor souls. And…"

"This way, my friends." Oskar led them to the far door, one meant for connecting one storage room to the next. Henry steeled himself for what was next.

Inside the next room were more Hestians, perhaps two or even three times as many, again of a mix of age group and sex. Most of them were now freed of their straps, with a pair of stern-faced Hestian fighters freeing the others. They were all confused and terrified. A couple were standing stiffly or still lying on their gurneys, reminding Henry of what Tia looked like when they found her in the testing lab on Hestia.

"More experimental subjects," Oskar said. "Almost all have the implant." He turned to face them again. "Captain, with your permission, I would like to stay and begin removing those implants. It will take much time, I know, but you have other medical personnel from Lou and the Sisters, and these people can't be made to suffer a moment longer."

Henry considered the request quietly. He would prefer that Oskar be on his ship, if just to have his skill on hand for the crew, but he could see just how much this meant to the man. This was technology he'd developed, he'd virtually invented, and it'd been used to cause suffering and death. Freeing these people was a way to redeem himself in his own eyes.

So he nodded quietly. "Alright. Brigitte can stay with you."

"I'll keep him out of trouble," she promised.

"Sister Anna, Sister Patience, stay with the good doctor," Innocentia said. "His protection is in your hands."

"Yes, Sister."

"Good luck out there, Captain," Oskar said. "And thank you."

Henry responded with a nod before departing. "Let's get to those cruisers," he said to everyone else.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

From his seat in the VIP gallery, Antoine watched the Hestian Assembly session with quiet impatience. His eyes swept around the room and he tried not to smirk at the pretense here. The Assembly, a chamber of about three hundred, was theoretically representative of the two hundred million or so residents of the planet and their respective districts, and from its ranks, the planet's Prime Minister and Cabinet were derived. The current constitution made the Hestian Business Council an "advisory body" that advised both on policy, but the Assembly held the legal power.

In truth, the relationship was the other way around. The true power was the HBC. The Assembly was a rubber stamp and had been for half a century. It was a mockery to pretend they had any right to the dignity implied by the chamber's grandeur. A mockery I must only tolerate for a little while longer.

The floor was currently held by Felipe Xiu. Antoine detested the jumped-up revolutionary, but the HBC's arrangements with the League meant letting him and his "Social Solidarity Party" stand for election. In return, the SSP carefully moderated its rhetoric, calling on the Hestian people to work "in the name of the eventual revolution," one that could only come with the defeat of the Terran Coalition. The SSP avowed to only make changes if it held the Assembly—and it never did, the HBC saw to that—and otherwise, loyally voted to support current "social defense measures," that is, all of the various laws and regulations that kept order. It also keeps the Hestians in their place.

"This measure is not an offense against workers, but against wreckers," Xiu declared. He spoke his English with only a light accent. "There are many Hestians who have fallen into individualistic thinking, who care nothing for the needs of their community. They undermine our mines, our factories, our farms, they do everything they can to wreck the efforts of honest workers, either through shirking their share of the labor or by active sabotage. Through this effort, we will ensure they do their part and cause no further harm to our hard-working people. Social principles will be upheld, and we will be ready for the day that Sagittarius is liberated from the Coalition's capitalist influences. The Social Solidarity Party is fully in support of the Workplace Security Act, and we call upon all Hestians to unify in support of our workers."

There were some catcalls from the audience. Antoine recognized a few of them. He had files on them all, of course, and already had plans laid for their fates. But he had no worry about their reaction.

Indeed, as Xiu sat, there was silent applause from the Assembly. It wasn't enthusiastic, but it was there, and more than a few heads did nervously glance toward him as if to judge his approval of their behavior. He smiled and nodded. A good king recognizes when his will is upheld by those below, however much they clearly don't like it.

The Speaker of the Assembly stood. His name was Rehman Awang, from the Segamat City Region in the tropics of Hestia. His party called itself the Social Conservative Party, and they were allowed to lead the current government by the HBC since their focus was on protecting "Hestian morals," not trying to win more concessions like some prior parties had. He spoke in English instead of Hestian as well. "If there are no further statements to be made, we will now take the vote."

A number of the Assembly clamored for the floor, all those who were clearly opposed to Antoine's new law, but the majority were calling for the vote to be held. Instead of simply refusing to acknowledge the dissidents, however, Awang spoke up. "I will remind the Assembly that the HBC Security Division has insisted on the need for this law to maintain planetary order."

Not very subtle, Antoine thought, and it clearly didn't quite work. One voice cried out "We will not be bullied!" He tried not to laugh. Hestians love to talk tough, but they break easily enough.

While the clamor filled the chamber, a message flashed into his vision, courtesy of the connection between his link and his artificial eye. It was from one of his subordinates in Rigault Security. CONTACT WITH LUNAR STATION LOST. REASONS UNKNOWN. RESPONSE REQUESTED.

I really need men of more initiative. Antoine felt a cold feeling crept down his spine. He turned his attention away from the clamor in the Assembly, which currently defied Awang's gavel slamming on his podium in an attempt to reclaim order. He needed to consider this problem.

It's a malfunction. It has to be. But if it isn't… He considered that possibility. A prisoner uprising, maybe? Could they have overpowered the guards on Breivik's detail? I must account for that possibility.

He pulled out his link and typed a reply. Deploy security tactical teams from orbital station. Investigate immediately.


Henry met the rest of his crew at the observation decks for the station's refitted docks. The entire group looked with awe at the ship.

He couldn't blame them. It was an impressive vessel in person. The design seemed more inspired by CDF fleet cruisers than anything else, if a little smaller and wider instead of taller. The three spinal mount neutron cannons each made the Shadow Wolf's old weapon look small. The auto-turrets were also gimbal-mounted and dual-barreled instead of single. Sleek Matrinid muonic cannons mounted on both the dorsal and ventral surfaces gave the ship a sharp look, as did the bow that came to a shark's head shape at the front. The Rigault Heavy Industries logo, a big stylized "R," was painted blue on the dark gunmetal gray hull on the side of the bow.

"Now that looks like a warship," Miri mused.

"It's meant to intimidate, that's for sure." His eyes tracked to further down the side of the ship. Instead of the hull number that he would expect in the CDF, blue block lettering proclaimed the ship's name as Conquérant. "Director Rigault isn't being subtle, is he?"

"I already checked out th' other ships," Cera said. "They're named Terrible, Impériale, an' Le Triomphant."

"How do they look?"

"Well, th' last one's still got some work needed; she's still missin' turrets at th' very least. Can't tell ye about th' others yet."

"I checked the camera logs on the Nimrod," Miri said. "Conquérant is the ship Rigault met Kepper in when he brought Tia back to Hestia."

"So we know she's spaceworthy, and probably the one they were due to launch first." Henry gestured forward. "Let's check it out."

The crew, as a group, walked at a brisk pace toward the boarding tube on the ship's starboard side. Once inside the airlock, they came across Hestians moving through the halls, some of them in prisoner suits. "More prisoners?"

"They were due to be implanted," Miri said. "Ninh's forces freed them, and the adults rushed to volunteer. Right now, they're making sure the ship's cleared of any crew, but they're ready to join us."

Pieter said, "I doubt any of them are spacers. But if they can handle an auto-spanner and a wrench, I can use them for engineering crew work. We'll just have to keep an eye on them."

"Round up whomever you need and coordinate with Linh."

Linh nodded. "We can make this work."

"Good. We're heading for the bridge, if you want to check engineering?"

He was answered by nods. Linh, Pieter, and Samina headed off toward the ship's stern while Henry brought the others with him toward the bow. He recalled the plans recovered by the data raid to lead the way forward.

The bridge was indeed in the ship's forward section, partway between the center of the ship and the bow on Deck 10. The layout put a command chair toward the rear on an elevated level, while various stations spread out from there. The apparatus for a holo-viewer was present, plus the chamber's front wall was clearly made with a liquid crystal surfacing to act as a secondary display. Henry noted the controls were tactile response ones, as in switches, keys, knobs, and the like.

"Impressive," said Vidia. "A shame it was built for such a terrible purpose."

"Antoine Rigault wants to build an empire with these ships," Henry said. "An empire he'll spread that control device with. So it's fitting we're going to stop him with them."

Cera eased herself into the helm. "A sassenach slaver like that bastard doesn't deserve a beaut like this." She ran her hands over the controls.

"We'll need to reset the computer systems," Miri said while walking along the stations. She found what she was looking for and sat there. "Piper and I can get to work on that."

That brought a thought to him. Rigault's ship names were handpicked. It's his message to the galaxy of what these ships are for. Well, two can play at that game, Director. "Reset the identifier systems too. Change the ship's name."

"Okay. What name?"

Henry grinned. "Let's go with… the Liberator."

Cera turned her chair back briefly. "Oh, I like."

"So do I," Piper added.

Vidia took a seat at the communications station. "I agree."

"We'll get it done," Miri said. "'Liberator' it is."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The three engineers found their way to the engineering section and were just as impressed. Two big reactor vessels dominated the chamber while a smaller one was toward the rear, an arrangement that reminded them of the Shadow Wolf's. The Lawrence drive was built into the deck toward the bow.

They weren't alone. A number of Hestians and two Sisters were already present. One of the Sisters approached them. "Sister Prudence," she introduced herself, speaking with a Tyronian Irish accent. "Pleased t' make yer acquaintance. Sister Innocentia thought ye'd need some engineerin' help. I was assigned t' Engineerin' in the CDF for eight years, an' I'm ready for orders."

"Good, because you're going with me," Linh said. She nodded to Pieter. "Let's get a look at this place together, but then I'm heading over to the next cruiser."


By this point, both noticed Samina was gawking at the master control display. It was a holographic projection, listing all of the systems in the ship and its readiness for action. Aside from computer lockdowns, Pieter noticed it was ready to go. "You okay?" he asked her.

"It's… it's so advanced," she said. "I mean, proton fusion. Only the Matrinid have that. How do we…"

"You went over the engine schematics with us." Linh walked over and set a hand on Samina's shoulder. "We can make this work."

"Listen to your mentor." Pieter gave her an understanding nod. "I know it's a lot to take in. But a lot of the principles, well, we know what we've got to do. Checking the coolant levels, watching for overloads or damage to the reaction vessels, making sure all the insides are working and relaying electricity and plasma where it needs to go… it's the same. You've done this on the Wolf, right? And the fusion drives, they're just about the same. Just all helium-3 fusing instead of helium-3 and deuterium."

She swallowed and nodded, sucking in a deep breath afterward. "I… I guess."

"That's the spirit," Linh said. "This is what you were born for, Samina."

"Then let's get some teams set up from the volunteers." Pieter glanced back to the display. "We'll be having a lot of work if we end up in a real fight."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Henry waited on the bridge quietly, but not easily. Miri and Piper were off at the main computer cores, requiring direct access to finish rebooting the ship's operating systems to give full access. Pieter and Samina were busy getting things going in Engineering as well, while Linh was with Captain Ninh getting the Avenger going.

"So what's our status on the Impériale?" he asked over the link.

The responding female voice was another of Lou's people, a captain in his security fleet named Captain Trang. "It could be a while. They were still finishing some of the final systems, and the fusion drives haven't been refueled yet. We're doing that now."

"Make do as best as you can," Henry said. "There's no telling how long—"

"Captain, sorry ta interrupt." Vidia's tone wasn't very apologetic regardless of his words. "But th' station control crew is signalin', it's Sister Innocentia." At Henry's nod, he keyed the system to put them on speaker.

"Captain Henry, we have short-range transports on approach. They're armed vessels. The sensors from the Venture Star are showing multiple life signs on each."

"Reinforcements." So we're almost out of time. The moment we act against those ships, the entire system will know something's up.

"Likely, and we may not have the forces to hold them unless we pull people from the cruisers."

And that means more time to get these things spaceworthy. "We'll buy every moment we can," he said. "Don't fire the station defenses until they're close, but under no circumstances can any of those ships land."


He keyed his link to Pieter. "Pieter, what's our status?"

"Teams are ready for damage control, and we'll bring the reactors to full as soon as the computers work with us."

"Alright." He keyed Miri next. "Miri, status?"

"Not there yet. It will be a while. The Rigault computer systems are more robust than Leaguer computers."

"Well, do what you can. We've got hostiles inbound. We need this ship ready ASAP."

"I understand."

He put the link to the side and leaned back in his seat. Now we wait.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Sisters on the bridge of the Papa San Gregorius watched with practiced patience while Tia Nguyen paced the chamber. Yanik and Sarno each kept an eye on her as she grew increasingly agitated. She kept casting her eyes furtively to the operational clock on the command holotank.

"They are not overdue yet," Yanik reminded her. "You do them a disservice."

"Do I?" It's a cultural thing, remember that, she reminded herself. It was hard to be charitable given the feelings this stirred within her.

"Do not doubt them. They will succeed."

"Your friend speaks the truth, if perhaps harshly," Sarno said. Her tone was sympathetic. "It's hard, being in command. Waiting to hear from comrades, friends, who have gone into danger while you remain behind."

"I wish I was with them," Tia muttered. "I should've gone too."

"No, you shouldn't have." Sarno's tone turned firm. "Chairwoman Nguyen, whatever I think about your politics, even I recognize your qualities, and more importantly, that you've inspired the Hestians here. Even among Lou's mercenaries, there is respect for what you've done, what you've survived, and what you seek. If something happened to you there, even if we won, we would likely lose in the end from the resulting blow to morale. That is why you are in the right place."

At first, Tia had no response to give. "I can't help it. I… they're my crew too."

"Yes, so show faith in them." Sarno clasped her hands together and ran a finger over a rosary bead. "If nothing else."

She's right. You know she's right. Trust in them. Tia nodded briskly. "You're right, of course. It's just not easy."

"The day it becomes easy is the day you should worry about yourself," the elderly nun answered.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

On the newly-renamed Liberator's bridge, Henry watched the approaching transports. The main holo display now showed the feed from the Venture Star sensors and the approaching transports. They would soon be in firing range of the station point-defenses, which meant that at a strong burn, they could land within minutes as well.

"We should have the computerized systems set up in a few minutes. Then it's all on Pieter," Miri informed him. "You at least have comms if you need them."

"He's standing by to bring the reactors online." Henry glanced toward Vidia. "Put Sister Innocentia back on."

Vidia nodded. "Yes, Captain."

"Sister, prepare to open fire with the station weapons."

"Should we not give them a chance to surrender first?" There was an edge to her voice.

We probably shouldn't, he thought. But the Sisters didn't go for lethal force when it wasn't absolutely necessary, and neither he nor Tia would oppose them on that. "I'll broadcast a surrender demand." He glanced again toward Vidia, who acted quickly before gesturing that he was on. "Attention approaching security transports, you are not permitted to land. Turn around now."

A reply came a moment later. "Who is this?!"

"Someone your bosses really pissed off." Henry folded his hands in his lap. "I don't want to hurt anyone I don't have to, but we won't let you land on the station. If you continue to burn in, we'll open fire with the defenses."

Silence was the initial response. "You wouldn't," the voice retorted. "This is a bluff. If you destroy us, you're dead. Our ships will blow that station apart if they have to."

"Even if they did, you'll still be dead. Going to risk it?"

While another silence continued, Cera's head rose toward a display. "I've got helm control," she said.

On the screen, the shuttles' position markers moved even faster. They were accelerating up to evasive velocity. Either Rigault's put a lot of fear into these folks or they're just as arrogant. Henry used his chair's controls to switch back to his tactical channel with Sister Innocentia in the station command room. "Sister, they didn't accept."

"So I see." The resignation in her voice weighed it down. "God forgive us all."

"He will, I think," Henry replied. "Vidia, think you could patch us through to an external cam? Show me those transports."

Vidia did so. On the screen, the transports were burning in on full thrust and already crossing into the station's point-defense range.

Emplacements across that section of the station swiveled to meet them. In an instant, several streams of projectiles met in the course of the lead transport. Due to its size, its deflectors were only for navigational purposes, not deflecting fire. The magnetically-accelerated rounds virtually ripped the ship apart, hulling it in so many places none aboard were likely still alive.

The transports behind started maneuvering while the turrets swiveled onto their courses. Within five seconds, another took several hits to its front section and started drifting. Henry figured the pilot was either dead or wounded beyond the ability to retain control, his ship continuing on a course that would take it away from the station.

The turrets moved toward the other ships, but they were already breaking off. One took a couple hits that blew out one of the two plasma drives propelling it. Only Innocentia's crew disengaging the guns saved that ship from further hits.

"Looks like we did it," Vidia said. "They're runnin'."

"Yeah, but we've just confirmed hostile action to their bosses. We're now at zero hour for the invasion." Henry turned his way again. "Vidia, get on interstellar comms. Let Tia know it's time to bring the fleet in." His finger keyed his link. "Pieter, get those engines going, ASAP. We're going to need them."

"Beginning startup now."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Antoine's attention was on the Assembly when his link went off. Given the situation, he kept himself from cursing. Whoever proposes laws should be read and voted on with such length should be shot, he thought viciously while reaching for his link.

Below, Awang banged his gavel again, silencing another protest to allow the clerk to finish the final reading of the Workplace Security Act.

Satisfied that everything was continuing as desired, Antoine returned his attention to his link. This time, it was an audio call from the HSF's on-watch commander in Planetary Defense. So there is something wrong, he thought, scowling. He raised the link to his mouth. "Report."

"Director, the transports we sent to the Rigault Lunar Station were fired upon by the station defenses. Rigault Security is no longer under our control!"

The news made his stomach twist in agony. My cruisers! No! "Scramble more transports and fighters! Blast through the point-defenses and get troops aboard! Now!" His words carried through the galley and even down into the Assembly, where the voting stopped for the moment.

"Continue on!" he bellowed before rising from his seat. From there, he rushed from the galley, his mind racing. Kepper should be aboard… or is he? His worst fears about the delay rose within him. Have I been betrayed? Tricked? Is he even on that damn ship?!

"Yes, Director, we're ordering them out now."

There's more to this than a mere raid on the station. They couldn't have known we relocated the project to the station. My security was too tight! With the suspicions in his mind intensifying further by the moment, he entered the hall of the Assembly Building. I need to get to planetary command. "Put defensive squadrons on alert," he ordered. "I want the entire planet under martial law by—"

"Sir, we have ships jumping into the lunar L5 point, unscheduled arrivals!"

Antoine's grip on the link intensified. "What kind of ships?"

"A number of transports. Local buoys confirm many are armed. Some armed security force or military vessels as well. They're burning toward Hestia orbit, sir."

"Prepare all security forces, send out an invasion alarm!"

"Sending… sir, a transmission is coming from the fleet on all civilian channels."

Antoine's link noted the same. He switched it to display the incoming signal.

Tia Nguyen appeared on the screen. His face curled into an angry snarl, which did little to show the fury now raging inside of his heart.

It wasn't just seeing her. It was seeing how she looked. Civilian clothing, but she had an arm band on her right arm, red and black in color, bearing the five-pointed gold star of the original Hestian settlers' flag. A pistol was holstered on her hip. It was clear she was not simply here to fight but to lead a revolution.

"People of Hestia, I am Tia Nguyen of the Hestian Workers' Party. Please hear me! I come to you as a daughter of our people, of our world, to warn you of the threat posed by Antoine Rigault's so-called 'Workplace Security Act'. The law was explicitly written to permit him to implant a neural control implant in the people of Hestia. This would allow the megacorps to control our bodies as if we were machines, to reduce us to the most complete slavery imaginable!"

As she spoke, the screen divided to show images. They were of the neutral control implant and the scarred necks of Hestians. Footage from a surgical theater showed a scrubs-clad doctor removing the implant from the back of patients' necks.

"I have suffered this device myself. It is nothing less than a living death! We cannot and will not allow this atrocity to continue!" Tia declared. "In the name of our liberty, I have gathered forces from across Neutral Space, forces ready to fight for a free Hestia. They have come to free our world from the Hestian Business Council and end, once and for all, the threat of enslavement that Rigault and the other megacorps pose to all worlds!

"This is the time to rise up, my people! Rise and fight for your freedom! It is the only way to save ourselves and our children from the most cruel slavery imaginable, the theft of our own bodies! Together we can—"

He shut his link display off and re-opened his communication to Planetary Defense Command. "Get General Rousseau, now, and alert all HSF detachments to begin arresting every Hestian on the suspicion list! We cannot allow this uprising to start!"

"Yes, General."

Antoine rushed out of the Assembly Building. His security detachment brought him to his secure helicar, and the driver immediately took off for Planetary Defense. He looked down upon the streets of Thyssenbourg. Most of these sectors were offworlder-inhabited, but even here, he noticed people gathering. They'd better be preparing to fight. Nguyen and her radicals will slaughter them to the last man, woman, and child.

Helicar travel meant the trip took only a few minutes, as PDC was in a bunker beneath HSF headquarters. He rushed through the building and down the lift to the bunker. General Rousseau met him. He had a dusky yet Caucasian complexion, with ash-gray hair already thinned to a crown around a bald head, one he kept covered. "Director." He saluted.

Antoine didn't return it. "What's our status?"

"This was planned, sir." He gestured toward a liquid crystal display showing a Mercator projection of Hestia. To Antoine's fury, multiple cities were now flashing red. "Every district on the planet has an uprising. Armed guerillas are attacking HSF and corporate security posts in every major city and industrial center. We've outright lost contact with rural patrol units in half of the districts, and we have reports of corporate officials being assaulted and physically removed from their properties."

Fury gave way to incredulity. "This isn't possible," he insisted. "The Hestians don't have the weapons for this!"

"It's possible they were more careful than we anticipated in rebuilding their arms caches," Rousseau speculated.

"Or someone provided them weapons." Could the League be betraying me? Aristide, or her superiors? Or… Lou. That jumped-up little bastard; he's behind this, isn't he? The more he thought of that, the more it made sense. Nguyen's "coalition" could only have been formed with the aid of a wealthy benefactor, and the HBC's assets would've been sure to find such if it came from an actual government. But Lou's corporate security always proved sufficient to prevent penetration from their espionage assets.

"The battle is still early, Director. We can recover this," Rousseau promised. "As it is, the uprising in Thyssenbourg seems limited to the outskirts. They're not daring to invade the inner heart of the city like they tried in their last revolution."

"Because they expect Nguyen's troops to lead that assault." Antoine balled his fists. His rage flared anew. "I want every unit mobilized, now. All rules of engagement are suspended. If they must burn a Hestian town down to reclaim it, let it burn. Torch the farms in the countryside to hasten starvation. Execute any armed Hestian adult found. Let these stubborn, dirty little…" He struggled for the right word to use. "...peasants learn the price of revolt, and let them learn it so harshly that, in the end, they will bare their own necks for the implants rather than risk defiance!"

Rousseau swallowed, but did not object. "I will send the orders. And what of the invading fleet?"

"Sortie all of our defense squadrons and destroy them!" Antoine roared. "Send that bitch Nguyen to hell along with her followers!"

"What about the station?"

And my cruisers. "Ignore it for now. We'll finish them off once Nguyen's dead."

The general nodded and went to work. Antoine let him go. He walked to a corner of the room and used his link to connect to a QET he kept, one not part of the regular corporate network. "Aristide," he growled into the link. "Nguyen has provoked an uprising across the planet, and her people have taken the station. I can't verify Breivik's status now. And there is a chance they will take control of my cruisers. We may need your assistance."

There was a pause before her reply came. "Keep us informed, Director. My squadrons stand ready, if we are required to save the situation."


On the bridge of the Papa San Gregorius, Tia turned away from the recorder. Shahkrit and Sarno nodded at her. Yanik merely blinked his eyes. "Do we have any word from the others?"

Shahkrit consulted his link. "The cells are all in action. Every district has an active uprising. The HSF hasn't organized a response yet." He grinned at Tia.

I shouldn't hope so early, but I can't help it. She felt a vibration within her very being, energy that demanded it be released. We can do this! We can end it all here!

The quiet eyes of Mother Sarno brought Tia back from that elation. The battle hadn't even started yet; it was too early to get so confident. Indeed, she already recognized the issue with the HSF's lack of an organized response. "They will, unless we give them another threat to worry about." Tia's gaze fell on the holotank. Her fleet of ships were burning in at the best common thrust possible. The L5 jump point meant they would be able to land in the next few hours.

"Now that we're getting real-time data from the planet, we should check our landing sites again." Sarno gestured to the holotank. One of her subordinates brought up the city in question. Blue fields appeared over park areas near the city center as well as the spaceport, not far from the Cả River, which ran from the northeast to the southwest through Thyssenbourg. "It would appear our identified landing points are already being covered by local forces."

"We expected that," Tia said. "But you'll note their spread out at other possible landing points across the city." A vicious grin crossed her face. "This time they don't have the League supplying our plans to them, so they have to guard everything."

"And a force trying to defend everywhere can be overwhelmed in one spot," Sarno said. "Still, we may need to reconsider some of our landing targets."

With Shahkrit's participation, they debated shifting forces around, to better deal with the apparent HSF dispositions. Sarno was cautious, Shahkrit aggressive, and she found her own instincts conflicting or agreeing with them depending on specific suggestions. So she accepted some recommendations and refused others.

One of the Sisters, Beatrice, raised a head from the sensor panel. "Mother Sarno, we have bogeys coming in on two attack vectors… no, three."

"Hayabusas?" Sarno asked.

Beatrice checked the profiles. "Yes, among others. They will enter engagement range in thirty minutes. Other squadrons are further behind, estimated time to combat range is forty-five and seventy-five minutes."

She nodded. "Order the fleet to launch our fighters and prepare the point-defense systems."

The order was sent. A couple of the ships had hangar bays with their own fighters, which launched directly from said hangars. Two of the Sisters' warships had fighters attached to their hulls before the jump, already armed for space superiority combat. Their pilots had to use magboots to get to their craft, but they would sortie in time as well.

What followed was thirty minutes that felt like thirty hours to Tia. While combat klaxons briefly sounded and the ship went into combat alert, she had nothing to do. For all her years spent in space, coordinating space fleets was Henry's specialty, and Sarno's people were better qualified than her to do the job.

The first wave came in, numbering at least sixty craft. They ripple-fired missiles into the fleet's formation. The tactical action officer of the San Papa Gregorius announced the point-defense systems were engaging. Some of the fleet's weapons were mounted in gimbal mounts, others on barbettes, and all fired their projectiles to intercept the incoming missile strikes and the bombers firing them.

The holotank no longer had Thyssenbourg displayed. Blue arrowhead icons for friendly ships remained in formation, surrounded by the smaller blue triangles of fighters, as red triangles lobbed little red dots toward them. The number of those dots looked overwhelming. Tia swallowed nervously at the thought of how much damage those missiles could do. Elation filled her as one by one the dots started to disappear, representing successes from the fleet's point-defense volleys.

Several dots got through, striking various blue icons. A couple got all the way to the center. "Possible impacts! All hands brace!" the ship's commander, Sister Patricia, called out into the ship intercom.

In the end, one dot died just before it reached them. The entire ship shook under Tia's feet while she held on to a railing. It was a good shake, but not the worst she'd felt.

Their counterfire hadn't been ineffective, at least. Twenty enemy bombers were gone, and the remaining were breaking off.

"Deflectors took it, but are down to partial efficiency," noted another Sister.

"Status on the other ships?" Tia looked over the blue icons. None had disappeared, but a couple seemed to be lagging.

"The Pace reports a partial penetration of their deflector screens by a missile." This was from the Sister at the comm station, Sister Justinia. "They took damage to their drives. One engine knocked out. The ISV Waltzing Matilda took a hit to their engineering section. They have casualties and no thrust."

"They'll be helpless against that next wave," Tia said.

"Yes." Sarno nodded. "But we must maintain course if we are to keep our timetable."

"Couldn't we bring them along by energy grapplers?"

Sarno looked toward Sister Patricia. "It's possible, but it's going to tax the engines of anyone towing them. We'll still have to reduce thrust to keep the fleet cohesive."

"How greatly?" Tia asked.

"We'll lose at least half an hour, if not more."

Half an hour. That's enough time for Rigault to rally counter-attacks in some of the cities, at least.

"It is your call, Chairwoman," Sarno said patiently.

It wasn't one Tia wanted to make. The Sisters on the Pace might survive, if the enemy bombers didn't single them out, but the Waltzing Matilda… it was an ISU-crewed ship. They were fellow spacers, if not fellow Hestians. And with their ship so badly damaged, they would be helpless.

They came knowing the stakes. Just as we all did. They're spacers who knew the stakes and still rolled the dice.

Sarno must have seen the conflict on her face, but said nothing. It was Yanik who spoke up. "They came knowing they might die. You do them no honor in throwing away lives on your world. You cannot save everyone, Tia. Give them the honor of their lives contributing to our victory."

"Yeah." Tia grimaced. "And we've got another wave coming in to be ready for. All ships, maintain thrust."

The holotank soon reflected her decision. Another wave of red triangles came in, sixty again, from a different vector this time. More red dots appeared Most were toward the fleet itself, but the Pace and Waltzing Matilda were the targets of two of the bombers.

Again came the lethal dance, as missiles and fighters maneuvered around each other and the point-defense fire. Four blue triangles blinked out, the victims of missile hits, along with a sea of red dots.

Tia hated being reduced to a mere spectator of the unfolding battle. But for all her spacer experience, this wasn't her place, and if she tried to get involved, all she'd do was get in the way. So she continued to watch in silent frustration as the red dots came in once more.

Three dots converged on them this time. Again impact warnings came. Tia held on to the railing on the side, but the Papa San Gregorius escaped an impact this time.

Another blue icon started falling out of formation. "One of Lou's ships lost deflectors. They took a direct missile hit, heavy casualties, and forty percent thrust loss," said Justinia. "Two ships are reporting deflector generator damage."

Patricia reacted swiftly. "Adjust formation. Put those ships opposite of the third wave."

Tia's eyes slipped toward the side of the holotank display. The Waltzing Matilda was still there, as if she could struggle to get back into formation if she kept burning hard.

The other blue arrowhead was gone.

Sarno noticed too. She crossed herself and murmured a prayer. "For all of the dead," she clarified to Tia.

"What happened?" Tia asked. How many of them were on the Pace? Sixty? Seventy? A hundred? Gone like that?

"A heavy missile in the right spot, perhaps a magazine." Sarno glanced toward the woman at sensors. "Sister Beatrice?"

"The ship's been gutted, Mother." Tears shone in Beatrice's eyes. "A few life signs, but that's it."

"We'll see to S&R when we can. We have other problems."

Tia could see what she meant, as the third wave loomed on the holotank. This time, there were more.

Far more.

"At least twice the prior waves," Beatrice confirmed.

Patricia pursed her lips. "I'm not sure we'll have the point-defense to stop them."

"We don't have a choice," Tia said. "We have to keep going."

Sarno nodded. "So we will, and we'll have faith God will see us through."

Shahkrit gave Tia a skeptical glance. She shook her head back. Please not now, Comrade. They're our allies, and their blood's already spilled for our people. Besides, we could use all the help we can get. Her eyes went back to the holotank, and the approaching horde of red triangles. Maybe we can still get through. Maybe…

Three new icons appeared at the edge of the holotank. Arrowheads, yellow-tinted, and coming in fast.

"Three contacts, bearing in at high thrust," Beatrice said. "I'm reading a lot of mass and they've already reached a high velocity."

Patricia turned her chair to face the sensor station and holotank near it. "They've probably got fusion drives. Do we have an IFF ping yet?"

"Getting it now…"

The yellow arrows turned blue. Tia felt the tension in the crew ease: their IFF codes matched the fleet's.

"...the ships identify as the Liberator, Triumphant, and the Avenger."

Justinia spoke up next. "They're patching into the fleet tactical link."

"Hestian Liberation Fleet, this is the Liberator." Henry's voice came over the speakers, and Tia felt her spirits lift. "Hold tight. Help is on the way."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

On the Liberator bridge, Henry found the tactical plot holotank where he'd expect it. Nearby, Piper was manning sensors and Miri acted as the tactical officer. "Looks like they're splitting up," she observed. "Forty fighters broke off to come for us."

"Avenger, remain ten kilometers off our dorsal arc," Henry said into the fleet tactical link. "Triumphant, between us, ten kilometers off the ventral arc. Fire all point-defense guns as they enter range."

"Should we stay back?" asked Cera. "There's an awful lot of th' bastards."

"No. Keep us on course to rendezvous, they'll need us. TAO, firing point procedures on fighter targets, point-defense cells."

Miri gave him a sardonic glance. "I was never fleet personnel in the CDF, remember? What does that mean again?"

Henry chuckled. "The point-defense missiles. At least Rigault didn't skimp on those. Fire them at the fighters as we reach a hundred and twenty-five thousand kilometers.

"Won't that give them time to evade?"

"Plenty, if they're smart."

Understanding showed on her face. "You're going to disrupt their attack run."

"That's the plan."

The three cruisers kept their course as if the attack craft burning in posed no threat. The holotank showed their steady approach even while Tia's fleet came ever closer.

At the appointed range, Miri called out, "Firing missiles on target."

Sections of the cruiser's hull saw armor plates pull back to reveal missile launchers. Multiple missiles ripple-fired from the ship. They appeared on the holotank as blue dots heading en masse toward the enemy fighters.

"Miri, load the auto-turrets with spread rounds. Vidia, I want the other ships firing the same." Aside from that order he kept quiet, trusting in his people to see his commands through.

It was soon clear the missiles had the desired effect. Several of the HSF attack craft fired their munitions in a single salvo and turned tail to evade. One squadron held off firing in order to focus on evasive maneuvers. The enemy's missile attack became stretched out instead of one concentrated volley that would better overwhelm point-defense.

Still, the incoming missiles were a threat, even if spread out. Both the fleet and Henry's stolen cruisers opened up with point-defense fire when they entered effective engagement range. Computer-aided prediction fire laid the projectiles into the courses of the oncoming missiles, while said missiles commenced evasive maneuvering to minimize chances of being hit.

Henry watched the icons for the missiles start to die. The spread rounds weren't just magnetically-propelled slivers of metal, but shells in their own right with proximity fuses. When their sensors detected the proximity of incoming missiles at a specific range the shell burst, spreading a cloud of accelerated metal—essentially shrapnel—into the course of not one but several missiles. As such, each shot wasn't just capable of destroying one missile but several, especially as multiple shells allowed for creating ever more expanding fields where missiles couldn't evade everything.

"Wow." Piper watched the ongoing fire on her own screens. "I thought we did okay with our old auto-turrets, but these things are taking out missiles left and right."

"Civilian ships don't get the fun weapons," Henry noted wryly. "For one thing, these systems are way more expensive, but Rigault already bought them for us. For another, we're still going to have missiles to deal with."

The holotank quickly proved his point, as some missiles managed to survive the spread rounds. The cruisers' secondary auto-turrets started engaging as well, firing like those they'd had on the Shadow Wolf, but with even greater accuracy.

"We're actually lucky," Henry said. "It looks like Rigault hasn't been sharing his new toys with the other HBC megacorps. Coalition anti-ship missiles are smarter, even the ones that aren't full-fledged Hunters. They'd have done better against the spread rounds, and might've even survived some hits from them."

"That's nice ta know." Vidia chuckled. "God be thanked for the greed of our enemies, then."

None of the ships in Tia's fleet had spread rounds, of course, but Henry saw they had a different advantage; sheer quantity of fire. With the cruisers drawing a third of the strike off and breaking up the enemy's timing, their point defense was chewing through the incoming strike by sheer attrition, aided by the bow auto-turrets of the Liberator contributing spread rounds in their direction.

In both cases, some missiles got through anyway. The three cruisers went into evasive mode. "She's nimble for her size," Cera noted. "But we're not goin' t' avoid 'em all."

"Do what you can," Henry instructed her.

She did, and given the mass and size of the cruiser she did very well. The maneuvering allowed their terminal point-defense systems more time to whittle down the remaining missiles further. Nevertheless, four missiles in total made impact on all three ships.

Once the second rattle was over, Henry called out, "Damage report."

At first, there was no reaction. Right. Nobody's at the XO's station. After a few seconds of quiet, Miri spoke up. "No damage to systems. They didn't penetrate the deflectors. Deflector effectiveness still green."

"Avenger and Triumphant report no damage," Vidia added.

"What about the Liberation Fleet?" He looked over the omnitool. There didn't seem to be any ships gone, but he thought a couple might be slowing.

"We can confirm damage to two ships. One of Lou's security frigates, the Fortune's Blessing, reports casualties and partial power loss. The Santa Ana Lucia is intact, but their deflectors are overloaded."

"What about Gregorius?"

"Minor damage."

Good. Escorts are hurt, but it looks like our troop ships are intact. "Patch me through to the Gregorius, then." He turned his attention to the display by his chair. The image flashed to show Tia and Mother Sarno standing together. "Everyone okay?"

"Rattled, maybe, but alive." Tia nodded. "Great timing, Jim."

"Yeah. So, we'll be in orbital space in another hour at our current rate of acceleration. It takes time to re-arm fighters like that, so they may not be able to sortie again before we're in position. Assuming we're green-lit?"

The flesh around her eyes tightened. "Yes. Green light for everything."

"I'm not bombarding a planet with neutron cannon fire, but these muonic cannons should be capable of some orbital bombardment that won't leave craters. We'll give your landing forces fire support while the Avenger blasts their squadrons' bases to stop any further strikes."

Sarno nodded. "That will be welcome, Captain. Our ships have some armaments, but the more fire we have, the fewer casualties we'll take in landing."

"Still planning on using stun bolts at first, ma'am?"

"Of course." She grinned, as if amused he might expect a different answer. "We recognize Lou's troops and the guerrillas will not, and we will not hold it against them, but unless it is clear lethal force must be used, my Sisters will continue to employ our methods."

"Right." He nodded in acceptance. "Godspeed, Mother Sarno. And to you too, Tia."

"Good luck to us all."


The mood in the HSF command bunker soured as the last strikes ended with little to show. My cruisers. Antoine scowled while his face turned red with rage. My cruisers used against me! His fists clenched so tightly, his trimmed fingernails still bit into his flesh.

The map of Hestia's surface had further bad news. Every city had an uprising to report. Strikes were shutting down factories and mines. The guerilla attacks were escalating as well. This isn't possible. These people were cowed. Broken! We shattered them! How can they dare to rise up again!?

Rousseau approached him. "Director, Colonel Kumba reports that the HSF HQ in Kruppburg can't hold out much longer. He needs reinforcements or they will be overrun."

"Send the reaction team from Schneiderbourg."

"We cannot. They’re barely holding the HSF offices there, and are tied down at the jails as well." Rousseau checked his tablet. "And we've confirmed the fall of the Sun Ninh Penal Mine to guerrilla takeover. We've lost all contact with prison overseers."

"Have the town of Sun Ninh targeted by suborbital bomber," he hissed. "Burn their town to the ground as reprisal. Make an official announcement."

"I'll send the order," Rousseau said dispassionately.

"And what of our mobilization effort?"

"It continues. Corporate security forces are attaching themselves to our command structure. But the response is varied…"

"We'll deal with that. Get them fighting! Remind them that a Hestian with a gun and without a corp or HSF uniform is to become a dead Hestian."

"I will, although I counsel against battlefield executions. It will slow—"

Antoine whirled about on the man. His electronic eye shined into Rousseau's face. "I gave an order. Carry it out!"

"Yes, Director," Rousseau sighed.

The desire to punish the Hestians was one thing. Dealing with Tia Nguyen was another. She'd be coming for him, and she'd want him dead as much as he longed for her death.

I'm not the only one she'll come for. As he contemplated that thought, a signal he'd been expecting came in. He accepted the call and found himself facing Bohlen and the rest of the HBC. "Director, I understand right now is a trying time—"

"It is, Chairman. But I have a moment."

"What is the status of this invasion?"

"Widespread but thin, I believe," he replied. "Once we can consolidate our security forces, we can crush them, city by city." And when we are through, this time I'll break them so completely, they'll curse Nguyen's name for a thousand years.

"What about this invasion fleet coming in?" Cooper's voice had its usual edge, but now he thought there was a brittleness to it. She is terrified we'll lose. "I'm told they're coming for Thyssenbourg. What are you doing to defend us?"

"Our forces are ready to receive them wherever they may land. Once their landing sites are identified, we can consolidate and overrun their landing zones."

"How fast, though? You can't predict where they'll land! If they come straight for us, they might capture the whole Council before the HSF can respond!"

"You must see to our safety, Director," Huang insisted.

"The Council will evacuate Thyssenbourg for the moment," Bohlen said.

Cowards. Antoine shook his head. "If you try to flee, I cannot guarantee your safety. In fact, I can only guarantee that Nguyen will shoot you down."

They didn't like that. "Surely you can spare something?" demanded Yamaguchi.

"I have nothing that can protect you from their military vessels. They have orbital superiority at the moment." Antoine grinned and let a sarcastic edge come to his voice. "If you had authorized those defensive orbital stations I proposed, perhaps we would be able to secure your escape." He enjoyed seeing them glower at him for bringing that up. "As it is, you are safer in Thyssenbourg, and I suggest you remain. Security troops will protect you while we finish this revolt off."

"Do not dismiss us so easily, Rigault!" Ortega thundered. "CEO Rigault will hear of this disrespect!"

"No disrespect was intended," Antoine lied, his voice smooth as he spoke those words. "I am looking out for the Council's security and best interests only. Now I must go; the enemy landing forces will be engaged shortly."

"We will discuss your policies later, Director," Bohlen said sharply, after which the call cut.

If there is a later for us all. Antoine felt a sneer curl his lips. Perhaps you will be of use to me after all, Nguyen. Anything can happen in a war, after all...

He would decide on that later. Right now, he had a war to win.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Sixteen years. It's been that long.

The thought reached Tia's mind after the San Papa Gregorius broke through the clouds. Thyssenbourg filled the screens. Not just a holographic construct this time, but real visual imagery, via the ship's external cameras. She could make out the towering spires of the city's commercial district, where Hestians required corporate IDs to set foot, the vast tracts of comfortable housing for the offworld workers and those privileged Hestians who served in the Republic, the commercial districts that supplied their wants…

...and the slums, of course. The worn down, dilapidated buildings surrounding the shining city like a wall of poverty, the only place Hestians were allowed to legally live if they didn't have a corporate sponsor.

She remembered those slums. Her mind went back in time sixteen years, to the day her uncle kissed her cheek and embraced her for the last time, wishing her the best and hoping she would live to see the new Hestia their people would build when free. He never realized, she thought. He didn't know the League betrayed us. But while they killed him, they didn't kill our dream. Her jaw clenched. I will free our people, Uncle. I'll build the world to be something you'd be proud of!

The monitors showed her what was happening. Even though they weren't on land yet, some of the other ships were already on the ground. They met immediate resistance upon landing. From an assortment of opened airlocks and cargo holds, armed men and women fanned out. Most of Lou's provided forces were wearing mercenary military uniforms, others the armband of Hestian Liberation along with her followers, and among them were the white armor-clad fighters of the Little Sisters of Divine Recompense.

Fighting spread across the city. The HSF opposed every landing, but they had to defend everywhere while Tia's army could focus on their landing zones solely. The landing ships themselves provided fire support, their auto-turrets engaging the HSF with varying effectiveness.

The San Papa Gregorius set down in Rochefort Park along the Thanh River. Once she was secure on the ground, her holds opened and the Sisters' heaviest forces poured out, power armor-clad fighters with tanks and mechanized vehicles. Mounted artillery guns activated on her hull to provide fire support missions, although only with stun shells for the moment.

"Many of our ships report heavy resistance," Mother Sarno said. "The HSF is concentrating on our landing zones."

"Just as we expected," Tia noted. "Suppressive fire?"

"Effective for the moment, but we expect artillery fire to commence shortly."

"The deflectors should buy time." Tia tapped a key at the command table. "Ground Command to Liberator."

Henry's voice came through. "Liberator here."

"We're going to need fire support shortly. If they bring their artillery into the fight, it could cause casualties we can't afford."

"Miri and Piper are identifying possible sites now. We'll take them out once we have secure targets."

"Thanks." Tia's attention returned to the holotank. The rest of the fleet was landing, save those handful of warships that weren't atmosphere capable. Their armaments were already providing immediate tactical support, dropping explosive or stun rounds onto HSF concentrations to break them up.

Each second felt like a minute. Each minute, a precious eternity. The slow passage of time prompted her to go back to that earlier war. The words and faces of long-dead comrades came to her mind, one by one. Quang, Ngoc, Mathilde…

"You think of old friends."

She glanced toward Yanik. He was wearing a set of tactical armor for tailed Saurians, acquired by Lou at request. She imagined he wanted to go out and fight as much as she did, but for the moment, he seemed content to stand nearby.

"I do," she admitted. "I'm remembering all of my comrades who died fighting in the last revolution. How much they'd want me to see to it our people are freed this time."

"Krassha is always most difficult when concerning the dead. We cannot ask them what they feel our obligation to them to be; we can only rely upon memory."

"I've already made compromises to get us here," she said. "How many more will I have to make?"

"I cannot answer that. I can only say that obligation to the living is more important than that to the dead."

There was a flash of pale light on the monitor. "Enemy artillery acquired; we're firing," Henry said over the line. More such light descended from the clouds, like bolts thrown by an angry deity, and distant explosions flowered on the horizon at times.

Tia watched the holoviewer quietly. Their landing areas were secure, and now they were coalescing into one common zone. Their forces pushed out to widen their zone.

And yet, the casualties were already starting to build. Even with their supporting artillery silenced, the HSF and attached corporate troops were stubbornly holding on to every centimeter of ground. Casualties were mounting on both sides.

"They fight so hard for their oppressors," Tia lamented. "If they'd throw down their arms, this would go so much faster."

"They cannot, Comrade Tia," Quan pointed out. "They know revolutionary justice awaits them upon capture. That they will be made to pay for their crimes against the Hestian people."

Tia noted the way the flesh around Sarno's eyes tightened. Quan wants revenge, or justice, while she's more interested in people surviving. Given her subordinates were fighting and dying as they spoke, Tia didn't ignore her reaction. "Mother Sarno? Did you have something to say?"

"Yes." Sarno turned away completely from the holotank. "The Church has its own research on Hestia, and I've been reading it. It is true that many HSF rank and file soldiers are your own people, and even those of other worlds are among the impoverished of those worlds. Many of them join to escape poverty. They are trying to feed their families."

Quan's cheeks reddened. "They benefit from the exploitation of our people!"

Viscerally, Tia knew he was right. They did benefit. But she considered what she'd learned traveling through Neutral Space. While some could enjoy abusing what little power they had, most were hardly the worst part of exploitation, indeed, were the exploited themselves. Even among the Hestians on the actual HSF, they weren't the worst collaborators—she reserved that for the "Republic."

"Mother Sarno, you seem ready to suggest something," said Tia.

Sarno nodded. "The resistance we're facing is only going to grow, and your rebellions across the planet can't sustain their success forever. Even if their counter-attack here fails, Rigault and his forces can outlast you."

Tia nodded. "Go on."

"I doubt they wish to die fighting for the likes of Antoine Rigault," she continued. "And the rank and file will include people horrified by the implants. They only fight because they expect you to have them murdered out of ideology. Promise humane treatment and possible amnesty to their forces and their resistance will slacken."

"And let them get away with their crimes?" demanded Quan. He glared at the elderly nun. "They abuse our people in the streets. They steal from our homes. They hurt our children for sport! They deserve what's coming to them, every one of them! And you want us to let them go?"

"I advise that you consider mercy," Sarno said, keeping her eyes on Tia. "Your revolution will be judged not just for the blood spilled to accomplish it, but why that blood was spilled."

She's right. But he is too. Tia had her own bitter memories of the behavior of the HSF and the corporate security forces. Not just those who cooperated without question with the experiments performed on her, but those from her youth as well. Just letting them go; the idea made her burn with anger. Quan is right, they deserve it! We deserve to have our pain repaid back on them!

A slight hissing sound prompted her to turn to the source. Her eyes met Yanik's. In those alien yellow eyes, she imagined she could see his own anger, his own feeling of unpaid injustice, and the crippling injury he'd taken at Kepper's hand, or being driven from his own homeworld.

Yet he acquiesced into letting Kepper go, she reminded herself. He put the needs of others above his own desire for justice… for revenge.

She glanced back at the global display near the holotank. Across the planet, her people were rising, at her command. Her words could tilt them in either direction. Her words could even keep them from dying further against foes they had in hopeless positions. The responsibility felt like it could crush her any moment.

Her eyes turned toward the map showing the unfolding battle for Thyssenbourg as well. She wasn't out there, but she knew what that fighting was like. She'd experienced it herself. The terror in your gut that any moment your existence would end. The pain of lost comrades. The cries of the dying, the weeping for their mothers. The memories of sixteen years ago came roaring back. Their forces, her people, were dying out there, as were those wearing the HSF and corporate uniforms.

Promise fair treatment and amnesty, and the surrenders will save our side too, she thought. More of my people will live to see a new Hestia.

Tia swallowed, steadying herself. It's the right thing to do. She repeated it as she glanced towards the comm controls and Sister Justinia.

"Comrade Chairwoman," Quan's eyes pleaded. "Don't tell me you're going to listen to this… nonsense?"

"We must do whatever we can to win today, Comrade Quan," she said, keeping her tone level. "We will make every sacrifice needed to preserve our people."


She gestured to Justinia. "Put me on. All channels. All media."

The nun operated her console for a second. "You're on."

"Attention. I am Chairwoman Tia Nguyen, and I speak to address not only my supporters, but those fighting them as well. I give my personal pledge to you all that any soldier fighting our forces who chooses to surrender will be treated humanely. Surrender and no further harm will come to you. You will be released to return home as soon as hostilities are over. I urge you to lower your arms and cease fighting for those who would turn every one of us, Hestian or offworlder alike, into puppets with their neural control devices. Do not die for those who have already killed innocent people to test their evil device.

"And for my comrades, yes, I ask you to show mercy, for the good of our revolution and the liberty of our people. The liberation of Hestia must come before any of our personal desires. Honor my promises in that cause, and we will create a Hestia worthy of our finest dreams."

She nodded to Justinia, who ended the transmission.

From his place at the table, Quan frowned. She could see the bitterness, and inside, she felt the same from the Tia Nguyen of sixteen years ago who yearned for justice, for revenge, against the crimes she spent her childhood aching to stop. "You heard what I said, Comrade," she said softly. "Whatever we personally feel, Hestia demands we act to save her, even if we must give up the justice we wish to see."

Quan nodded stiffly. "I understand. I will resume my duties." He returned his attention to the monitors he was overseeing.

He will not be the only fighter disappointed, Tia thought. I have angered many in the Party. I only hope they understand why we must do this, and that they will obey.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia's speech finished playing over the speakers in the planetary command bunker. Antoine wanted to reach through the screen and strangle the life out of her on general principles. That she was trying to undermine his troops' morale made the desire all the stronger.

Nearby, General Rousseau shook his head. "Are you telling me you believe her?" Antoine asked the man.

"She does seem sincere, but whether or not I believe her, I know some of the rank and file may do so. Those of our troops who are cut off and isolated may attempt to take her word for it."

"Then put me on!" Antoine demanded.

The arrangements were quickly made. Antoine stared into his link's video screen, knowing it was transmitting his image as well, and spoke harshly. "This is Director Antoine Rigault. I am aware of the so-called 'promises' of the radicals now besieging our world. I call upon the security forces to ignore them. They are a sign of our impending victory, as our foes are desperate enough that they seek to soften our resolve with lies of mercy when we fully know their bloody aims.

"They want you dead. They want us all dead. They blame us for their own failings, for their inability to make their world as prosperous as we have, and they want to kill us for that! Do not for a moment believe that woman's lies. She will shoot you dead as soon as you are in her mercy. I know this because that is how I got this." He pointed a finger to his electronic eye. "I'm only alive today because she was such a bad shot!

"These people are why we are implementing the Workplace Security Act, to protect Hestia from their sabotage of our economy! They have brought this measure upon themselves, and this attack makes clear the necessity of the Act! They are so worried about losing what power they have left that they are attacking us, even though they have no hope of prevailing against the power of the Republic and the Hestian Business Council.

"Remember this. Any trooper who holds true to their contracts will be amply rewarded when this fighting is over. Any who surrender will be judged in violation of employment contract and blacklisted. And a ten-million-credit bounty will be granted to anyone who kills Tia Nguyen, whichever side they're on!"

He cut the line at that part. That will keep her on her toes. A bemused sneer crossed his face. Her kind are always turning on one another.

"Inspiring, sir," Rousseau said. "Let's hope the men are bolstered."

"I've offered a reward for victory. That's usually enough."

Both men returned their attention to the monitors. Minutes passed, quiet, tense minutes, as they waited to see if the broadcasts had any effect upon either side.

They were frustrating minutes to Antoine. Already his plans were badly disrupted. The empire he planned to build required the cruisers now in enemy hands. Even victory here might not be enough. But at least I can have revenge on Nguyen for causing this trouble. And I can rebuild when this is over. I will rebuild.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

In the command center of the San Papa Gregorius, Tia watched the battle continue to unfold. The landing zones were all linked together now into a solid area, and their expansion brought their troops to both sides of the river. Each block was being fought for, and isolated units of the security forces continued resisting, even when cut off.

"It appears our oppressors don't believe us," Quan remarked. "Or they believe Rigault more."

"He made an effective point with his eye." Sarno's eyes were curious as she focused them on Tia. "You did shoot him?"

She nodded. "Sixteen years ago."

"In battle? Was he still fighting?"

"No. He was wounded," Tia admitted. "Defeated."

"So why?"

"Because he'd helped to kill my comrades," she replied bitterly. "He led the forces that nearly wiped us out. Linh and I were the only survivors."

Sarno bowed her head once. "So you shot him to avenge them?"

After a frustrated moment, Tia shook her head. "Not just that. He… he was an oppressor of my people, Mother Sarno. And we were going to lose, and he mocked our struggle. He mocked us all."

"Ah." Sarno nodded. "It may not surprise you to learn I have heard of this happening before."

"What do you mean?"

"That's the thing about violence," Sarno continued. "It becomes a cycle. The violent abuses you suffered under these corporations drove you to violence in turn, including shooting a helpless prisoner. He survived and took his rage out on your people, and ultimately, on you. Even now he provokes his people to fight beyond hope simply to spite you."

"Is this your way of telling me I shouldn't have shot him back then?"

Sarno shook her head. "No. I'm simply showing how I understand this process, because we Sisters have known it in our lives. Every Sister here, in this command center, or on this ship, or in the fighting around us, every one of them has experienced violence before. Before we took our vows."

"You're all ex-military, I know."

"Not all. Most, yes. But the point is that some of those in our Order did the same as you once did, Chairwoman. They were driven by violence until they fell into feeding the cycle as well." Sarno's eyes turned to an image of the planet. "It's not always an easy cycle to stop. That is why we pick our fights so carefully, and why we hold back the use of lethal force, because it would be against our oaths to feed that cycle."

"Violence will exist so long as capitalism and tyranny do," Quan said. "That can't be avoided."

"Perhaps not, but it can be resisted." Sarno glanced at Tia again. "Please remember that, Chairwoman."

Tia nodded.

"Chairwoman, we have an update from Xayaboury!"

All eyes went to the holographic display of the planet.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Antoine was the first to see it. The planetary map, with its conflicting blues and reds, alternated those colors for cities and towns known to be contested. Already too much of the map was red for his taste.

So was Schneiderbourg now.

"The HSF Office in Schneiderbourg was strongly held!" he snarled. "How did they fall so quickly?!"

Rousseau looked up from where he was consulting a message. "From what we can tell, Director, they didn't fall." He met Antoine's eyes calmly. "Colonel Lambert surrendered."

The news stoked Antoine's fury, such that his soul burned with rage. He's not even Hestian! Why is he surrendering?!

Indeed, it was becoming clear that this was only the largest such case. A few other towns and cities went red too, and on the map of Thyssenbourg, the small blocks of blue for units cut off in the enemy advance started to disappear. The red was expanding from the city's southern quadrant, heading steadily for the Commercial and Government districts, and less blue seemed to be in the way now.

"Their orbiting fire support has proven quite capable," noted Rousseau. "The cruisers they took from your station are firing, well, I'm told it's Matrinid weaponry."

Yes. Nguyen has turned my ships against me. I should have killed her, Rene's amnesty plans be damned!

"Our forces are still holding," Rousseau said. "But we may need to consolidate troops until reinforcements arrive from other systems."

"In what way?" Antoine asked.

"I would propose we withdraw to the northeast of the city," Rousseau said. "In the warehouse district. We can establish a defensive perimeter and await reinforcements from other systems."

"No." Antoine shook his head furiously. "If we do so, we abandon the capital. Nguyen's momentum will be unstoppable after that." And she will have all of my ships. "We must push her back here and now."

"We have reinforcements coming up to hold, but unless we do something about their fire support…."

"Something will be done, that I promise you," Antoine said.

"Oh?" Rousseau was clearly skeptical. "What?"

"Director, General!" The female officer's voice filled the bunker. "We have new contacts jumping into the lunar L5 point!"

The two men turned their attention to the holotank displaying the solar system. A host of new contacts showed not far from Hestia.

"Reading ship identifiers now." The woman looked up with confusion. "Sirs, they're… they're League warships."

Rousseau showed surprise. Antoine almost chuckled at that, and the grin that split his face only confused them all further.

"Transmission from the League ships."

"Put them on."

Aristide's voice filled the bunker. "I am Commander Yvette Aristide of the League of Sol. Hestia. We have come to aid you in repelling these Coalition-backed radicals that threaten your government."

The surprise didn't depart Rousseau's face. Antoine patted him on the shoulder. "See, General? We're going to win this after all."


The new contacts glowed hostile crimson on the tactical holotank on the Liberator bridge. Henry noted their position at the lunar L5 point: with their military drives, even the older ones, they'd be in combat range within the hour. Even the Sisters' remaining warships won't do too well against these odds. We need to engage them out of range of the support fleet. Aloud, he asked Vidia, "What's the status of the other cruiser?"

"Impériale is about to launch," Vidia confirmed. "Captain Trang has chosen the new name Independence for the ship."

"Then have them meet up with us before we engage the League. Let Tia know we have to break off orbital support for now."

"Sendin' her the word."

"I've got us on course t' meet up with th' Independence," Cera added. "Though they might already have us under fire by then."

"We'll have to risk it." Henry turned toward Piper. "What can you tell me about the League force?"

"Eight frigates, eight destroyers, and four cruisers, plus what looks like ten transports. They're like the ones we shot down over Monrovia a couple years ago, but the silhouettes are different. These have weapon turrets."

"Troop transports." Henry frowned. He wouldn't put it past the League to arrange to keep troops on standby for a project they valued highly. League troops could still turn the tide here. We can't let them land. "Can you get me class identification on the warships?"

"I'm using the database Rigault installed in the sensor systems." One by one, the systems identified the ships in question. "Looks like older models. One Rand, but the other three cruisers are Humphrey-type. Python-type destroyers and Charger-class type frigates."

Older models. I used to fight those types back in the CDF, when they were reserve units, even then. Given how many ships they've lost these last few years, and their ruined shipyards, it's no surprise they're calling in older ships for this kind of op.

They were old, and the muonic guns and neutron cannons would do a lot of damage, but quantity was still a quality of its own. Nor could there be any doubt that Aristide's forces were trained veterans of the League fleet while his crews were mostly untried at this kind of space combat.

On that matter, he asked, "Miri, can you classify targets with these systems? I'd hope Rigault's people went that far?"

After a moment, she nodded. "Looks like I can. Designating Targets One through Thirty."

"You mean Master One through Thirty, right?"

"That's not what the system's calling it." As she spoke, the holotank provided those designations.

"We're receivin' a signal from the League flagship," Vidia said.

"Go ahead and put them on."

This time, the display beside him changed to show Commander Aristide. She still had the same cold haughtiness he remembered from Lusitania. "James Henry, formerly of the Shadow Wolf."

"That's me," he answered.

Her lip curled into a slight, expectant grin. "If you surrender, you and your crew will live, and find new purpose in Society."

"You mean you'll stick that implant on our spines and make us into drones. No thanks."

"Then I get to carry out your termination order myself." With that, the call ended.

"They really do never get over being beaten," Piper sighed.

"Full combat burn, Cera." He kept his voice firm at giving the order. "I want to catch them as far from the support fleet as we can."

"Full burn, aye."

Here we go, he thought. The kind of battle every CDF commander dreads, and the one we're not supposed to turn away from. Lord Almighty, help us out here.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The makeshift labs on the Rigault Lunar Station included a surgical theater. Oskar found that it was sufficient to his needs, if still lacking compared to a proper facility.

To help him, he had Brigitte, working as a makeshift nurse and clad in scrubs, while other Hestians aided as necessary. His current patient was a girl of about nine standard years. The child slumbered peacefully through the procedure while Oskar delicately opened the back of her neck with a scalpel. The implant was easily found, connected to her spine and the nerves with a thoroughness he could see was Jan's handiwork. She's just a child, Jan. A child! Her nervous system is still growing. The damage you could do…

He stopped himself from further recrimination. With great care, he used a smaller laser cutter to remove the implant. Some of the wiring couldn't be taken out with his available equipment, but without the implant, it was vestigial and could be removed at a later, safer time. The important thing, he thought, is getting these things out. I have to undo what Jan did with my creation.

Just the thought brought back to his mind the rows of dead, comatose, and catatonic patients in the other room. Despite the very real truth of Jan's betrayal, he felt a measure of responsibility for their suffering. I knew Society was not the ideal I was raised to believe. How could I not realize that my work would be perverted this way? I should have known. The camps should have told me everything I needed to know…

Oskar took a breath and re-focused. He had a patient to save.

It took another five minutes of careful, delicate work, but he removed the implant from the child without complications. The surgical cut was deep enough that dermal regeneratives weren't enough by themselves, so he sutured the cut closed before applying the regenerative patch. He nodded to the Hestian woman at the door, one of the unimplanted prisoners who was functioning as an orderly. "Please take her to the others. She will remain unconscious for a time and will awaken with no pain."

The woman smiled and nodded before wheeling the little girl out.

Brigitte's eyes focused on him. "Oskar, you need a rest," she said. "You've been at this for hours."

"I know," he sighed. His hands quivered now that they were free of the precise control needed for the operation. He set his laser scalpel down on the tray and joined her in leaving for the moment. They walked into the nearby patient ward where the unconscious victims remained. "I'm going to need some food, and a new battery for the laser scalpel," he said to Brigitte. "As well as the gloves. Can you find some?"

"Probably in the infirmary if they don't have any more here," she remarked. "I'll be right back. You stay here and get some rest."

"I will," he promised.

There was skepticism in her eyes, but she accepted the pledge and departed.

Oskar watched her go and drew in a breath. She was trying to look out for him, of course. We came together over this. Fitting we're here at the end of it.

The thought occurred to him that there might be a bladed scalpel to use as well. It would serve as a backup should no battery be found. He walked back into the surgical theater and went over to the tray. "Ah." He reached down and picked up the small metal blade with his right hand. It was as his fingers wrapped around the handle that his eyes noticed something was off about the tray.

The laser scalpel was gone.

A cold tinge of metal pressed against his throat. He felt breath on the back of his neck, unsteady and labored.

A voice from his past spoke. "Oskar, my old friend."

"Jan." Oskar sighed. "What are you doing?"

"Saving our work," he replied. "Saving the last hope for our galaxy."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

In the command center on the San Papa Gregorius, Tia felt a particular frustration. The League's arrival placed their efforts in extreme jeopardy, especially if they landed with enough troops. All I can do is watch and hope Jim can stop them.

There were other problems as well. "With the losses we've sustained, the advance is slowing," Sarno remarked quietly from her place at the holotank. She seemed almost serene, if not for the intensity in her eyes. Her order might very well suffer its gravest defeat in history if the League prevailed in orbit, and that showed in the way she was looking at everything.

"And we've lost the cruisers' bombardment to help push everywhere." Tia looked over the map. They'd already linked up with cells of the Hestian revolutionaries in the slums. A third of Thyssenbourg was now completely under their control, and they were poised to take half of it if they kept advancing. But we can't advance on all fronts now. "They are surrendering more often, at least."

"Not enough, if we want to end this killing quickly." Sarno shook her head. "Rigault will dig his forces in deeper and draw in more reinforcements with each lost hour."

"I know. He'll never give up the capital." I hope he doesn't. I want the bastard caught! She surveyed the map. Her eyes spied where the Thanh River made a westward curve through the heart of the city, forming the core of the government district with the commercial district—with the HBC building—beside it. Their positions were not far from it…

"You have an idea?" Sarno asked. "You have that look in your eye."

"Yeah. The best way to end this is to take the heart of the city," she said. She traced her finger over the holographic representation on the table. "We'd control the main throughways and the river. And we could even capture the HBC itself, not to mention their military command, if our forces can get through before they evacuate."

"They'll expect a direct attack."

"Yeah. But here." She ran a finger along the eastern side of the city core. "Going by the resistance they're showing, a lot of their forces here are stretched out. If we hit hard enough, we could break through into the blocks leading northwest into the core."

"We can bring up our reserve." Sarno indicated the position of the units in question. They consisted of a couple of companies of the Sisters who had yet to be on the front, a company of Lou's own forces, and the gathering Thyssenbourg cells of the Hestian Liberation Forces. "With the forces on site, we might force the way open."

Neither had to remark on the fact that they were throwing the dice on this. If the reserve was chewed up, they had no further reserves and were not likely to get any further reinforcement.

"We'll need to push hard." Tia stepped away from the table. A part of her wanted to go and join the charge herself. To lead her people, and their allies, to show she was as ready to fight for their world as any of them.

Sarno's eyes focused on her, sharp as daggers. It was clear the old woman knew precisely what she was thinking, and was more than ready to argue against it.

"We need everything in this attack," Tia insisted. "Something to rally them."

"That is not you."

Tia pursed her lips. She thought of an argument to make. Before she could finish said thought, however, Yanik spoke up. "It is known by many that I am your comrade and shipmate. I will lead the attack."

She stared at him with worry. "Your shoulder's a mess. You can't carry a weapon."

"I can manage an assault rifle," he replied. "That will suffice."

You're in no shape to fight! Tia wanted to shout at him. But the way his yellow eyes focused on her face made it impossible for her to say so. There was a need in those alien eyes, something like what she imagined she had when her own life was turned upside down by the failure of the last revolution. In your own way, you feel as cooped up as I do, don't you?

With that in mind, Tia nodded. "Alright. Go ahead. The reserves are yours."

He nodded. "I will lead them away now. If the Divine wills it, I will see you again when we have the city center under control."

"Go with God," Sarno said.

The big Saurian clearly had nothing else to say. He turned and headed for the exit, his tail lightly swishing in either direction.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The icons on the holotank showed the blue of the Independence drawing into range of Henry's own ship and the accompanying Avenger and Triumphant. Trang reported the ship's partial unreadiness by text report, with reduced stores for the point-defense weapons and two of the muonic turrets inoperable on top of the two not yet installed. He accepted those limitations, as it still meant a third ship in the fight. At least their deflectors were finished.

The League attack began as the cruisers moved into firing range of one another. The frigates and destroyers dashed ahead of the League cruisers. Missiles erupted from their launchers and bore down on the four ships. In quantity, the attack exceeded that of the earlier attack craft.

The cruisers responded with their point-defense fire. Again the spread rounds created cordons of metal that the missiles couldn't breach without damage, taking out several. The incoming missile salvo gradually reduced.

Had the Independence been properly armed, the combined fire might have utterly stopped the attack. But it wasn’t, and as such, a number of missiles poured through to attempt terminal runs. Only now did Independence engage with her CIWS—Close-In Weapons System—auto-turrets.

It wasn't enough. Each cruiser took a few impacts. Even before the rattling stopped, Henry asked, "Squadron status."

"No direct hits; the deflectors took them all," Piper said.

Henry refrained from criticism. He'd wanted Vidia to confirm damage reports from the other ships, not for Piper to scan them. They're not CDF; they don't know how this works, he reminded himself. You're not CDF anymore either. His attention returned to the holotank. The missile attack wasn't being followed up. He wondered why, at least until he noted the enemy formation. The transports were still burning for the planet while the military League ships maneuvered nearby.

"Why aren't they screening those transports?" Piper asked. "Aren't they afraid we'll go after them?"

"You'd think so, but Aristide isn't a line officer. She won't think like one," Henry pointed out.

"She's a security operative," Miri said. "One experienced with going after insurgencies and breaking them up."

"We're not quite the same…" Henry spoke those words while observing the League maneuvers. You go after insurgents by breaking up their support in a population. You lure them into traps by misdirection. You attack things they have to defend.

He tracked the course Aristide's ships would take if they kept their heading. The warships would be in range to fire on the support fleet for a time, but they weren't on course for orbit like the transports. They'd pose a threat, but not as great of one. She's not worried about Thyssenbourg, or the fleet. What is she after?

His focus came on what followed. He traced a line in his mind, following the League ships on their course and what their positioning would be…

"The moon."

"And the station," Miri added. "Breivik's research is there."

"That's what she wants."

"If we burn hard for the transports, we can get in and do some damage, but they can maneuver and cut us off from the others," Piper said.

"If those transports land, this entire invasion fails," Miri said.

"They won't." Henry keyed the squadron command channel. "This is Captain Henry to all ships. Follow us in. Direct firepower on those transports."

Cera took the lead in pushing the Liberator's engines to full.

The League ships didn't take long to react. This time, the cruisers joined the missile bombardment and Henry cursed Rigault's decision not to employ similar missile launchers on his cruisers. Given the angle and range, fire from the muonic cannons would be fairly inaccurate, but a few hits were better than none. "Firing point procedures, target…" He caught himself again. "Focus fire on their cruisers. They'll be the easiest to hit at these ranges."

"Locking on now."

The working turrets on all four Rigault cruisers began to move, tracking their distant targets. Pale colorless light rippled from them, sending concentrated, energized muons to cut through the deflectors of the enemy.

The League ships began evasive maneuvers while maintaining their formations. They managed few hits, even with their volume of fire, as the range was still over two hundred thousand kilometers.

As they burned in, Henry noted the positioning of the enemy ships. I was wrong, he thought.

"Captain." Piper's voice betrayed concern. "Their maneuvers… it looks like they're spreading out."

"I noticed."

"The course we're on and the one they're coming around to, if we keep this up, they'll not only cut us off from the support fleet, they might completely surround us."

"Sounds like something Aristide would do," he agreed. "Do you have an alternative course to get us into firing range of those transports?"

"Probably not," she conceded.

"Definitely not," Cera added. "They're already tae close together."

"Well, we'll worry about that once we've got those transports stopped," he said. "The moment they're in range, firing point procedures on Targets Twenty-one through Thirty."

"I don't think I'll ever get used to this CDF combat speech," Piper sighed.

In defiance of the League maneuvers, the four cruisers flew in, in a rough line abreast formation with Liberator in the middle and somewhat out in front. The ships continued firing their turreted guns on the approaching League ships, now spreading out as if to form a great jaw and consume them.

I wonder how much they know about these things? Our weaknesses and design strengths? As important as that consideration was, Henry dismissed it as coming too late to matter. Besides, the transports were the priority target, and keeping the League warships off their allies' ships or the conquered space station were the next two priorities. What I wouldn't give for a CDF carrier group right now...

More missiles streaked in. The League was going for saturation tactics, perhaps recognizing Independence's incomplete state. The spread rounds did their work of attriting the strike, allowing the CIWS to whittle the incoming missiles down to just a few impacts.

"Independence reports deflector loss, their generators aren't workin' as well as planned," Vidia said.

"We'll try to make up for it. Take some of the fire for them, if you can, Cera."


The exchange of fire increased as they pushed in. The League warships now fully turned back to commit to engaging them. Plasma cannon balls joined the existing missile fire, and this couldn't be intercepted.

"Targeting computers are projecting firm firing solutions on their transports," Miri said. "Range is now a hundred and twenty thousand kilometers."

"Helm, adjust course. Try to give them shots that won't miss and hit Hestia."


The Liberator shuttered as a bolt of plasma from the Rand slammed into their shields. "Deflectors holding at eighty-five percent efficiency," Miri said.

That felt like a direct hit. The deflector shields are good at least. Aloud, he said, "TAO, fire when ready."

Miri's finger stroked the trigger key.

The bow-mounted neutron cannons fired. Three pale, white-hot beams of energy lanced across the distance from the Liberator's bow, joined by three more from the other cruisers. The transports down-range jinked and maneuvered, causing some of the shots to continue on through the void.

But not all.

Miri's aim was true. The three lances of deadly light and energy blew right through one transport's deflector. Together the beams savaged the ship's engineering spaces and cargo areas. Secondary detonations ripped through the stern of the transport until it flew into two pieces.

Two beams from the Avenger hit their targets as well. They wrecked the front half of another of the transports. It remained intact but badly wounded.

The Independence's aim was less accurate. One beam grazed along the starboard of the Avenger's victim, scouring the hull after overwhelming the deflector screens. One of their beams didn't even fire. The Triumphant missed completely with her beams.

"Independence reports a safety override stopped one of their cannons. It's most likely a faulty capacitor," Vidia said. "Triumphant is having trouble with the targeting systems firing the neutron cannons accurately."

And this, children, is why you do shakedown runs, Henry thought bitterly. A damn shame we didn't get a chance to do the same.

"The transports are changing course," Piper said. "They're turning toward Hestia."

"Fire again."

While their turrets continued to engage the approaching League ships, the neutron cannons fired once more. This time, every ship hit with one beam apiece. The wounded vessel took the Avenger's shot through the engines, wrecking her drives completely. Another transport saw one of the Triumphant's beams shoot through its holds, destroying whatever was within and exposing the holds to space. Debris—including bodies—spewed from the wounds left. The Liberator's shot went down the beam of a transport, from drives to bow, a direct hit that led to a large explosion ripping the vessel's rear sections apart and left her a hulk. Independence landed a hit that blew apart the engineering spaces of her victim.

With three ships out, one reduced to a drifting wreck, and another with a severe wound in her holds, the League's ground forces were much reduced in threat. Each ship burned hard for Hestia orbit, seeking escape by landing wherever they could manage.

"One more volley, then we have other things to worry about," Henry ordered.

Miri obeyed, as did the squadron. Another ship died and another was badly damaged in the attack. Four remained to limp their way planetside.

The League ships were coming in fast, though, and their fire was increasing. Their numbers strained the effectiveness of the four cruisers' systems. The return fire with muon turrets was at least gaining in accuracy. Henry watched a frigate, Master Fifteen, disappear from the holotank, a victim of the Avenger's muonic cannons. We're still outnumbered. "Break us away from the enemy," he ordered "Full power to deflectors."

"Aye, sir."

"Given their position, if we go too far, they can double back and hit the Majha and the other orbiting ships," Piper pointed out. "We're going to have to fight them sooner or later."

"Yeah, but I want it on my terms," Henry said. "Full power to deflectors. Right now, we just need to survive."


Oskar didn't dare twitch. From the feel of the device on his throat, he knew it was the laser scalpel. With one thumb press, Breivik could bring the laser on, and given where the emitter was pointing, Oskar's carotid and jugular would be severed instantly. He'd be dead within a minute.

"Whatever it is in your hand, put it back on the tray, Oskar."

Oskar's hand went back to the tray. He glanced that way long enough to see where his fingers were located. He tapped the scalpel against the tray before delicately pulling it back up and hiding it in his hand.

Trying not to think of the dangerous gamble he'd just taken, Oskar spoke. "It's been years, Jan. You've been busy."

"Yes. I had to restart the project from scratch from what you did."

"Did you read my letter?" he asked. "It's clear you didn't listen to me, but did you at least hear me out?"

"I tried. I tried, old friend." Breivik's voice shook with emotion. Fear, certainly. There was anger, frustration, and possibly regret, although Oskar couldn't be sure that wasn't just what he wanted to hear. "But I am not the only one guilty of failing to listen. I pleaded with you, Oskar. Pleaded."

"You did. Just as I did. It seems both our pleas fell onto deaf ears." Oskar felt his own emotion starting to choke him. Old feelings of betrayal and regret filled his chest and made his heart ache. "Jan, I saw the bodies. All of those people you left dead, or no better than dead. You've broken every oath you made as a doctor. Why?"

"You know as well as I that our oaths as doctors matter little when the needs of Society are weighed. We learned that in the camp infirmary."

"We did. So why did you add to the suffering?"

"To end it all. Why couldn't you ever realize that, Oskar?!" His assailant's voice turned bitter. "Your device is the only way to put an end to it!"

"The camps." Oskar swallowed. "You still think it would work that way."

"I know it would!" Breivik's voice trembled. "If we make anti-Social thought impossible, the camps will be shut down. The blight on Society will end. The corruption will end!"

"No, Jan. No. You've misdiagnosed the problem. The camps are not the cause of Society's corruption, they're a symptom. The cause is much deeper. It's rooted in the very idea of Society."

"No, no! How could you say that, Oskar?" Fury came to Breivik's voice. "Having seen life outside of Society, how could you? These people aren't any better!"

"Nobody is perfect, Jan. That's where Society goes wrong. The people believe it is perfect. Even you. But it has the same corruption as those outside of it." Oskar sighed with resignation. Why must you remain trapped by this dogma, Jan? You're smarter than this! "Perhaps it is human nature. So what are we going to do? Are you going to kill me?"

"No. No, not unless you force me," Breivik said. "I want you to live to see the perfection your device will create. I want you to enjoy what is to come as much as I do, even if it is only in our final years. You deserve that much." Oskar felt tension in Breivik's arm. "Come, this way."

Oskar allowed his old friend to guide him over to one of the computer terminals. "The system is networked," Breivik said. "From here, you can access all of the research." There was a clatter as a data disc came from Breivik's other hand. "Insert this and copy the research data onto it. It'll only take a few minutes. Please do it now and do it quickly. Don't make me kill you, Oskar."

Oskar took the disc and inserted it into the corresponding slot on the terminal. He knew Breivik was watching enough that he couldn't be fooled, so he went ahead and began the copying. "You cannot escape from the system," he pointed out. "Why are you doing this?"

"Aristide will come for me," the other doctor said. "She needs the research as much as I do. It is the only reason we became involved with this blighted world." His voice was filled with disgust. "I would rather have operated on that individualist bastard Rigault, but he is our ally for the moment. Like all of his kind, he can't see beyond his own desires."

A fault you share, my friend. "And those you've experimented on, Jan? We had blood on our hands in the camps, but we were at least trying to heal. You hurt those people. You killed them."

The laser scalpel tightened against his throat. Had it been a blade, it would have sliced his flesh open right then and there. "I know, Oskar, but it had to be done! It still has to be done! We're so close to finishing this, so close, I can't give it up now! I can't throw it all away!"

The guilt in his voice made the meaning clear. He wasn't just talking about his work. He knew he'd done wrong. That innocent blood was on his hands. "It has to mean something," Oskar said, his eyes watching the progress bar on the terminal as it loaded the disc with the fruits of his friend's terrible research. "If you don't complete it, then those people died for nothing. Is that how you feel?"

"Yes. Finally, you understand." Breivik's voice broke with what sounded like relief. "Are you understanding it all now? The great potential of your work, Oskar? With it, we can end the flaws that hurt us all. Humanity can be relieved of its impulses, from all of the terrible things we do. The implant will make it impossible to think those things, to want those things."

"Only by destroying what makes us human, the good with the bad."

"No. It will free us."

The bar filled completely. The download was complete.

Oskar let the scalpel in his right hand slide back down into his palm.

"Hand me the disc! Hand it to me now!"

Oskar removed the data disc from the slot. He brought it over to Breivik's left hand, outstretched in front of him. He could feel the breath at the back of his head shift. His old friend's attention was shifting toward the disc.

Now or never.

Breivik's hand darted forward, tearing the disc from Oskar's hand. At that very moment, Oskar's hand came up as well. The blade of the old-fashioned scalpel glistened in the instant before it sliced through the flesh of Breivik's wrist.

For a moment, Oskar imagined the outcome of his failure. What it would feel like to have the laser activate and slice into his throat. With the severing of both jugular and carotid, his brain would soon starve of oxygen. Would it be painful? How long would he remain conscious?

There was no prick of heat. No blood issued from a hole in his throat. His aim was true.

The scalpel didn't just slice through flesh. He'd judged the angle correctly, running the blade through the delicate tendons that controlled the wrist and severing them.

Breivik's hand went limp from surprise. His deadly weapon fell away from Oskar's throat, unactivated. As a scream came from the wounded man, Oskar pulled away, freeing himself from Breivik's grip.

It was only the second afterward that he realized the data disc was still in Breivik's other hand.

Breivik quickly realized it too. While blood still poured from his damaged wrist, he turned and fled for the door.

Oskar had no choice. He took off after him.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Yanik rode with a mixed group of Sisters and Hestians for the front. Their destination was a series of road intersections that would, when taken, allow mobile forces to move on for the government district.

Since stepping outside of the San Papa Gregorius, Yanik's senses were under constant assault. He could smell the death in the air, from the bodies that were stuck under the debris of broken buildings or left in every locale. The thunder of explosions echoed like a steady drumbeat. Enemy artillery was still at work, if much reduced by the earlier effort of the stolen cruisers, and their forces' artillery was engaged in its own vigorous fire.

That much was made clear as they came to the intersection. Earlier shelling turned what was once a commercial structure, likely an office building, into a pile of rubble. Twisted girders of alloyed steel rose from the debris, the warped and damaged skeleton of the destroyed building. It was the very symbol of destruction for the urban environment.

This was only the worst case. Smaller structures had varying levels of damage but were still at least partially intact. Their forces were already employing some of them as redoubts to hold forward positions.

"Out!" The call came from a security trooper in Lou's forces. Yanik noted some of the armband-wearing Hestians were slow to obey. They resent the offworlder giving orders. The Sisters were quicker to dismount. Yanik joined them.

That saved his life.

The final Hestians were dismounting when an explosion thundered through the air. Yanik felt the shockwave strike. It threw him to the ground. The hard asphalt surface made his right shoulder scream in agony. His tongue flicked wildly in the air for a moment, a nervous reaction to the pain and the resulting frustration at it.

The ringing in his ears gave way to the sounds of gunfire and more explosions. The enemy wasn't just shelling them, they were launching an attack here. A spoiling attack, most likely. Yanik thought it aggressive, but it fit the enemy's predicament best. A sudden spoiling attack to dampen a dangerous one you can see coming was a classic tactic.

A dangerous decision by our foes. I shall show them why.

"Take defensive positions!" he shouted in a firm, deliberate voice. "Enemy attack!" He followed his own orders by scrambling up the debris of the broken building and taking cover behind one of the fallen bones of that structure. Projectile rounds ricocheted wildly off his position.

Although he couldn't see for the moment, a Hestian taking cover beside him looked around the corner. "Enemy troops coming up the road," he said. "It looks like—"

A wet, heavy sound came to the air. The young man fell backward. A crimson halo formed under his head while his vacant eyes stared skyward.

More fell around him, Hestians and Sisters alike. Vehicles coming up stopped and dismounted their infantry before fire could start to come down on them. The enemy was using a combination of energy rifles and projectile guns, chem-propellant, and they were firing aggressively. Some of the dismounting infantry went down before they could get to cover.

One of the trucks exploded, its death joined by a supersonic crack in the air. Yanik risked a glimpse around his cover and determined the source of the shot. An enemy tank was coming up with their counterattack.

It looked very bad. But there was opportunity here. Yanik pulled a satchel charge dangling from the dead Hestian's shoulder and looped it together with his own. "I will need cover fire!" he called into the tac-comm. "I'm going after their tank!"


"We hear you, Commander S'srish."

Already their forces were recovering from the enemy lunge, while the HSF and corporate troops engaged in trying to clear the uprising's troops from their redoubts in the shattered buildings. The chance to shatter their momentum was here; it had to be taken.

As the tank and accompanying infantry neared, Yanik waited patiently for his chance. The security troopers, wearing Rigault blue, came down the road first, forcing him to change his position and crouch low, putting the twisted girder between him and the column. Another explosion roared in his ears and one of the half-intact buildings was no longer intact. The tank was firing into them.

Closer… closer… now!

"Cover, now!" he shouted. Around him, allied forces started firing into the enemy column, which took cover or went prone. The tank stopped its advance and brought its gun over to where the fire was coming from.

Yanik emerged from the girder, the satchels in his right hand and his rifle in the left. He couldn't aim it accurately this way, but as he rushed forward, he didn't need to. Spraying the fire kept heads down among the infantry nearer the tank.

Still, return fire came. He felt a hot sting to his tail, and another struck him in the side below his injured shoulder. The pain was significant. He pushed it away for the distraction it was.

He dropped low behind a chunk of masonry. Now he was almost in striking range. Behind him, a fire team of Hestians came up, bearing a pulse squad automatic weapon. Two of them set it up quickly while their compatriots went prone. Rifle fire soon cracked through the air around Yanik, now coming from behind him in his own support. It was joined by steady streams of pale sapphire light. The SAW was in action.

With this support fire, Yanik was clear to continue. He left cover in a crouch and moved forward, clambering down the debris toward the tank. Its turret was still turned away. The main gun thundered again and screams echoed in the distance.

Yanik kept his rifle firing on the final approach, adding to the suppressive fire of his allies. One trooper rose to try and shoot him. A rifle shot from his allies took the soldier down first.

As he got to the base of the debris pile, Yanik lowered his rifle. The taloned fingers of his left hand yanked the charge cords of both satchels and he pulled them loose of his shoulder. Pain surged through his right shoulder from the strength with which he threw the explosives.

The twin satchels sailed through the air and landed short of the tank's front left tread.

And yet, the satchels slid onward, only stopping once they were under the tank's glacis plate.

The explosion was painful to his ears, but no shockwave struck him. The front of the tank rose under a pillar of flame and light. The machine flipped backward and toward its right, ultimately settling on its right side to show the massive blast hole where the satchels devastated the tank's belly armor.

Praise to the Divine. Yanik went prone again, bringing his rifle to a ready position. He fired it at a security trooper trying to get back up, forcing the man to hit the ground again. Around him, friendly troops began to move forward bit by bit, exploiting friendly cover fire to meet the advancing enemy's failing charge. The loss of their heavy armored support and the resulting casualties clearly tore into their morale, weakening it further.

The word came down quickly from command: begin the attack.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The fight far, far above Hestia was becoming a massive, three-dimensional game of cat and mouse. The Rigault cruisers' engines gave them a lot of thrust for their size, enough to stay ahead of the League cruisers, but the destroyers and frigates could still close.

And close they did.

Henry watched the developing attack run on the holotank. The destroyers, still eight in total despite some deflector hits, burned in hard. This time, they braved the barrage of his squadron's muonic cannons to drive the missile attack home, firing at a mere forty thousand kilometers before backing off. The thrust capability of the missiles quickly cleared the zone in which the spread rounds were most effective. Their own point-defense missiles rippled out of their launchers, racing to try and intercept the incoming strike, but given very little time to do it.

One of the red icons blinked out. "Target Nine eliminated," Miri said.

It was a small success, but Henry wanted more, given the incoming missile strike was not going to be as attrited as usual. Their CIWS systems did what they could, and the point-defense missiles still managed some successes. The evasive maneuvers bought precious seconds to kill more missiles.

But it wasn't enough, not nearly enough, to stop the strike from hitting home. The Liberator shook under his feet. He didn't have to ask for a damage report. "Deflectors held, but we had a localized failure, hull damage to Deck 8 Section F," Miri said. "We've lost one of the point-defense missile systems."

The hit was a severe one, but Henry could already see worse was done with the holotank. The Independence was falling out of formation.

Trang's voice came over the tactical command channel. "Captain Henry, our deflectors failed. We've taken several impacts, including our engineering section. Our drives' thrust is down to sixty percent."

The loss of that much thrust made it inevitable that Aristide's cruisers would overtake Independence, at the very least.

"Sir, keep ahead. We'll fight as well as we can before they finish us off." Trang's voice shook a little as she spoke those words. She knew she was condemning herself and the skeleton crew to their deaths.

Another red icon blinked out on the screen. "Scratch a destroyer, Target Six," Miri said.

Still, they've got six more destroyers and seven frigates, plus those cruisers… Henry did the calculations in his head. All he could really do was buy time for Tia to secure the capital. Maybe they could grind down the escorts of the League cruisers, but odds were they'd be too damaged to finish off even the remaining old League ships.

It's not just about Hestia. If Aristide takes the station even briefly, if she does anything to get her hands on that research data, the League can recreate those damn implants elsewhere. I can't let her do that.

"Incoming hail from the League cruisers."

Aristide's voice spoke coolly over the line. "Are you going to waste more lives, Captain Henry? For what? For sheer, bloody-minded defiance?"

"You could always depart."

"I am here to further the interests of Society. Dr. Breivik's device will revolutionize the League. Our victory is inevitable." She scoffed. "For years, I have hunted your kind. Your hypocrisy in the name of base individualism never fails. Your own religion tells you not to tempt your 'god', but your kind always assumes he will come to save you, no matter the odds. You believe it even in the camps, where you infect your fellows and cause them further pain before inevitable socialization. All of the pain your dogmas cause, and you don't even adhere to them. If you did, you would surrender now."

Her words prompted a memory from decades ago, a half-recalled line from a writer nearly a thousand years past. "'The devil can cite scripture to serve his own purpose'," Henry said.


"That's what this reminds me of," Henry said. "And it's just like your type to not get the point of the Temptations."

"What are you talking about?"

He pressed down a key on his chair, killing the speaker input for the moment. "Helm, reduce power," he said. "We're not abandoning the Independence."

"Aye, sir," said Cera, her voice betraying no uncertainty as to what he was doing.

He removed his finger from the key. "You don't really understand the Second Temptation any more than you do any of the teachings of the Bible," he said. "Or anything else about us. That's what I've learned about Leaguers like you over the years. You can't comprehend faith that doesn't involve something material. All you've got is your ideology."

"I have studied your writings. I know your own Bible better than you do, I suspect."

He shook his head. "You studied the words so you could twist them against us. But you've never grasped the meaning. If you did, you wouldn't be fighting for the League anymore. The Second Temptation's about abusing God's promises, not having faith in His aid. I'm not putting myself and my people in danger just to prove God will rescue us. I don't even know He will. I'm trusting He will because we're fighting for something more important than ourselves. We're fighting to save this planet, and to save the galaxy, from your damned machines. And even if I die here, I'll die with the faith that He'll help us stop you in the end."

"It appears you are no longer the individualist I thought you to be, Captain," Aristide said. "But whether you are an individualist or a superstitious lunatic, this battle will end soon, and I will win."

"No, you won't."

"Enemy forces restoring combat formation," Piper noted. "The cruisers are rejoining the frigates and destroyers. They're—"

Piper's sudden stop drew his attention. "What is it, Piper?"

The holotank answered him first, but Piper's voice confirmed it. "Multiple wormholes forming at the lunar L1 point! Ships jumping in!"

"Show me." Henry turned his attention to his display while Piper fed the visual data to the same.

The wormholes that showed were already fully formed. Henry watched the ships that emerged from each. With every ship that came through, he felt a swelling in his heart.

Vidia's voice echoed the hope Henry felt in himself. "Multiple vessels tying into our tactical channel."

"Let them in." Henry muted Aristide again by swapping the link channel on his chair.

"Doing so. Multiple broadcasts from the arriving ships."

The first voice to sound through the channel spoke his English with a thick accent. "This is Piotr Sergeevich Tokarev of Morozova. Captain Henry, my squadron stands with you and the Hestian resistance. We are preparing to engage and will conform to your orders."

"Mad Hatter here." The familiar voice of Commodore "Mad Jack" Dulaney filled the speaker next. "Trinidad Station also stands with the people of Hestia. We're here to put down whoever came up with those damn devices and end the HBC's misrule once and for all."

"This is Captain Mauricio Dominguez of the Beja. Lusitania remembers her debts, and she has not forgotten the League's treachery. We stand with a free Hestia."

Henry recognized the last speaker. "Dominguez of the Star of Coruna?" he asked.

A bearded man of bronze complexion appeared on the display, wearing the military uniform of the Lusitanian Navy. He looked far healthier than the last time Henry saw him, when he was still recovering from confinement in the "resocialization" facilities on Pluto Base. "Yes. The League never returned my vessel. It made accepting Prime Minister Ascaro's offer of a naval commission all the easier."

"A whole dreadnought," Piper breathed. "They sent their dreadnought."

The holotank noted the same, showing the colossal Beja in the heart of a squadron of Lusitanian destroyers and corvettes. Henry thought of what he knew of her. She's an old Saurian Wars hull, so she's probably little better than a fleet cruiser in the end, but she's got big damned guns we'll find useful.

His eyes glanced at the holotank again. Their arrival at the lunar L1 point placed them in a position to be in firing range within minutes, long before Aristide could reduce Henry's cruisers.

"Another wormhole just formed, sir," Piper said. "This one is at the lunar L4 point."

The ship that appeared on the display was a distinctly Coalition design, but she had no visible markings. With its appearance, another accented voice came over the line. "Colonel Sinclair of the Oxford to Colonel Henry. It looks like we arrived right on time. We're here on official business, but if any League ship engaged in hostilities with Sagittarian fleets comes across our sights, I feel obligated to engage such rogues in violation of the peace treaty."

Henry almost asked what he was doing showing up. Rhodes and Barton will have his commission for this. But there was no time. The League ships were in formation and were starting to move. His arrival point puts him in position to hit the League from that flank, or keep them from fleeing easily. A smile crept over Henry's face as he considered the tactical situation. His finger ran over the link controls, returning him to the channel Aristide was using, while an extra touch ensured it would go to the other ships as well. "Commander Aristide of the League. In the name of the systems and worlds making up the Independent Fleet, I'm offering your people a chance to surrender peacefully."

Aristide answered him by cutting the line.

"Avenger, Triumphant, assume a defensive formation around Independence," Henry ordered. "All other squadrons, move into range. Commence full engagement."


The battle in space renewed itself with an unexpected maneuver. Aristide's ships turned away from their courses toward the Rigault cruisers to bear down on the arriving fleet from the neutral systems.

Henry noted the choice. His first idle thought was that Aristide was trying to break through and jump out at the L1 or L2 points. But that doesn't sound like her. This lady's not used to losing. At Lusitania, she could at least say it wasn't her fault. Here, though… no, she's not running.

"Looks like they'd rather fight th' others," Cera said.

"They would. Aristide's got military ships and military crews more modern than those ships. She's counting on hitting them so hard, their formation breaks while we try to catch up. Then she'll make her own break for the Lunar Station." Henry keyed the tactical channel. "All allied squadrons, assume defensive formations and prepare for heavy missile attack. Cruiser squadron, Oxford, move in to aid our allies at full burn. Independence, make the best time you can, but don't worry about catching up."

Affirmatives answered him.

The Liberator and her squadron, save the damaged Independence, rushed forward, pursuing the same League vessels they were previously avoiding. As they closed the range, their muonic cannons opened fire.

The League ships ignored them. They opened with missile fire, as always, directed at the independent fleet, which replied in kind. The missiles flew past one another and into the thick of each side's point defenses. Each volley suffered, the League's military-grade PD dealing easily with the cheaper missiles of the independent fleet while the quantity of PD fire from the other side overwhelmed the incoming League missiles. What few missiles did get through mostly impacted on deflector shields. One of the Cyrilgradite ships suffered a partial impact that blew through its hull, but it remained in formation and combat capable.

The League ships burned on undeterred while another volley was exchanged. This time, the Oxford joined in, firing a full salvo of Starbolt anti-ship missiles towards the League. As they came in at a different angle, they forced some of the League ships to fire in the other direction to blunt the attack.

The exchange of missiles provided more hits this time. The decreased range left less time for point-defense fire to take them down, and the Oxford's missiles spread out the League efforts as well. A League frigate took a missile head straight on its deflectors and survived, succumbing moments later to a direct hit from the Liberator's muonic cannons. One of the destroyers fell out of formation after a Starbolt struck its engineering spaces and damaged its propulsion systems.

Yet the League had greater effect, as Henry feared it would. The wounded ship from the first volley took two more hits, turning it into a wreck. A Lusitanian corvette lost deflectors and half of her engines to a missile, and an armed civilian cruiser in Dulaney's fleet took three hits that left her badly wounded. Henry observed several other ships suffering hits that reduced their deflectors, ensuring they wouldn't last much longer.

By then, both fleets were firing a third volley, while Henry's captured cruisers continued to pour energized muons into the League formation. The point defenses worked as hard as they could, but now even the League cruisers were taking missile hits. The closed range ensured more surviving missiles.

Again the League had the better side of the exchange. They lost no ships outright, although many took damage. Five more allied ships were either blown apart or crippled by missile strikes.

Yet the Independent Fleet didn't back down. Aside from immediate evasive maneuvers, they maintained full burn toward the League ships. Henry smiled gently at that. You underestimated them. Hartford did too.

The two sides were in effective range to exchange fire with cannons now. Furious bolts of emerald energy, sapphire light, and many other colors filled the space between the two fleets. Now the casualty counts started to mount. We've got numbers, but they're taking a hammering. We've got to get our neutron cannons into action.

In the time before they could, Henry watched the ongoing fight through display monitors while the holotank occasionally dropped another red or blue light. More of the latter were lost, although not as much as he feared.

No. They're brave, but the League's holding fire. This doesn't look right. Henry manipulated his display controls to get a look at their firing behavior.

"They're rushing the Beja," Mad Jack said over the tac-comm link. "All ships maneuver to protect the dreadnought."

The fleet responded to Mad Jack's order. Vessels maneuvered to cut off their angles of attack on the old ship while its weapons, including its massive battery of old coil-guns, continued to thunder away at the League cruisers. The ship had enough upgrades to its targeting system, evidently, as it managed several hits on two League cruisers that strained their deflectors and, in one case, penetrated to inflict a glancing hit.

The League light ships launched their anti-ship missiles at close range before breaking away, a maneuver that claimed another frigate from counter-fire. The missiles streaked through the void, corkscrewing to avoid point-defense fire while homing in on their target. One Lusitanian corvette threw itself into their path, taking three hits that left them utterly gutted.

Between this act of self-sacrifice, the point-defense weapons blazing away, and the Beja's banks of deflector generators, the Lusitanian ship fielded the attack well enough. But she didn't come out untouched. The missiles distorted their deflectors enough that several made direct or partial impact on the armored hull, blasting out chunks of the great ship. Henry frowned when one of Beja's mighty coilgun turrets blew apart from a direct hit. Two of its engines died from damage.

The League ships broke away, a swarm of red arrows on the holotank shifting direction, but they didn't get away cleanly. The Beja retorted with a full barrage of surviving turrets. Multiple heavy shells slammed into two of the League Humphries-type cruisers, knocking out the shields of one and damaging the deflectors of the other. The Morozova and several of the Trinidad Station ships poured firepower into the unshielded cruiser. Explosions flowered spectacularly over her gray hull until her engines blew out. The crippled hulk drifted onward, swiftly falling out of formation. Henry's frown disappeared, his expression one of grim satisfaction.

The League ships finished breaking away despite the fire. Their close-range attack inflicted enough loss, taking out five more allied ships in total and inflicting severe wounds on the Beja. But despite the hammering the independent ships held their places, indeed, turned to pursue and continue the engagement.

For all that damage, Aristide's attack failed. The realization drew a grin to Henry's face. She wanted to eliminate the Beja to demoralize them. Well, it didn't go as planned, and it cost her a cruiser and two more frigates. He considered the influence that had on her unit and the grin grew larger. "Cera, give me everything you can on the engines. Vidia, I want the same from the Triumphant and Avenger."

"Aye, Captain!" Cera replied enthusiastically. "I'll put our new lass through her paces!"

"Signal sent, Captain," Vidia added. "Any further orders?"

"Just one. We're going in." Henry's eyes focused intently on his tactical displays and holotank. "Piper, analyze their comm traffic. Single out Aristide's flagship. If they want a knife fight, we'll give them one."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The beating of Doctor Jan Breivik's heart fluttered wildly. His lungs ached for every forced breath while the muscles in his arms and legs burned from an exertion beyond any of the Society-mandated physical fitness routines he maintained. The thought came to him that he might just die from having his heart give out, if he didn't bleed to death first from the deep wound in his right wrist.

But he couldn't stop. He had to run. He had to get to his shuttle and escape with the data, so that the work could continue and the way laid for Society's triumph and redemption.

Between the wild beats of his heart, he could hear the footfalls. Oskar was pursuing him. Undoubtedly, the blood trail helped. Old friend, why can't I convince you?! came the wild, frustrated thought as he plunged ahead.

The footfalls grew in volume, faded briefly at a turned corridor, then returned with all of their ominous pounding a second or two later. Not much time left!

The brief sight of a sign brought him jubilation. It was for the shuttle hangar where the League shuttles were kept.

Indeed, the double doors soon loomed large. They opened too late for him to simply run through, forcing him to force himself between the doors. It cost him precious seconds, yet he still had a few left to lose. His shuttle loomed ahead. All he had to do was get aboard and hit the airlock door. I may not be able to fly the shuttle away, but there's a QET aboard. I can get the data to Aristide. The project will survive! The future can still be saved!

His final steps toward that portal to safety came and his heart leaped with hope.

The shock of impact knocked the meager breath from his overworked lungs. Breivik fell to the ground with a weight on his back that propelled him to the deck and held him there. Hope gave way to dismay at the sensation of warmth and breath that could only come from another human being, and one nearly as overtaxed as he was.

No! No! Not now!

The weight above him shifted. That gave Breivik enough room to twist. His right elbow flew backward. He felt his elbow strike something fleshy. A cry of pain filled his ears and the weight lessened. With every erg of strength he could manage, Breivik forced that weight up, turning himself into a standing position.

Arms grabbed him, causing him to spin, and he was face to face with the red, flustered visage of Oskar. The formation of a bruise showed on Oskar's cheek, but the only sensation showing in his expression was stern determination. One of his arms pulled free and went for Breivik's left hand.

The data! He's after my data!

Breivik pulled his arm back and tried again to scramble to his feet. Despite the near uselessness of his right hand, he tried to force Oskar back with a blow, but the awkward angle made his own bones crack and his damaged appendage throbbed with the agony of broken knuckles. Oskar's other hand came over and gripped at Breivik's left arm. The shift in weight bore them both to the deck again, Oskar again on top. Breivik felt a powerful grip on his left fingers. His hand was being pried open.

In desperation, Breivik opened his mouth and plunged his teeth into Oskar's throat. The taste of human sweat and flesh was awkward and hot, mixed with the metallic tinge of blood where his teeth broke his antagonist's flesh.

The blow was near enough that instinct took over. Oskar shifted attention from Breivik's hand to his throat. His hands went for Breivik's face to force him off. Breivik let go before the pressure ripped any flesh from Oskar's body, letting the force of the move push him clear. He scrambled to his feet and lunged toward his shuttle door. Just a couple steps more!

The first step came. Then the second step…

...and he fell, hot savage pain tearing through his thigh and locking his left leg down. He cried out in surprise as he toppled forward, just a meter shy of the door. He wailed in wordless despair. I have to get to it! I have to!

"Get down, Leaguer! Get down!" The female voice was one he recognized. It was the anti-Social individualist who'd shot him down in Thyssenbourg, Brigitte Tam'si. The woman who should've been his first subject, if not for Oskar's unfathomable betrayal of the Society. "Sorry, Oskar. This place is too bloody big."

"Our apologies as well, Doctor Kiderlein," another woman said. Breivik couldn't place her accent but thought it sounded like one from the Coalition. "We thought we got all of the League personnel in our sweep of the station."

"It is all right, Sister Patience." Oskar stood to his feet, rubbing at the bite wounds as he did. He breathed as heavily as Breivik was. "What's important is we stopped him."

"No, Oskar, please," Breivik pleaded. "Don't. This is the key. You must see that it is! It's the only way to close the camps!"

"I'm sorry, Jan." With deliberate steps, Oskar walked over. He knelt down and took Breivik's left arm. The grip was a solid one, yet he resisted with everything he had to keep his hand closed around the data disc. "Help me, ladies?" Oskar asked.

The two white-armored women and Brigitte stepped forward. Three more pairs of hands gripped Breivik by the left arm and shoulders, holding him down. He shrieked, "You can't!", but there was nothing he could do to stop Oskar's slow prying open of his fingers. The data disc fell free.

"Oskar, no!" The plea came so forcefully, it left his throat raw and drained every bit of breath from his lungs.

His plea was for naught. Oskar's foot came down on the disc with force. The first blow didn't do anything, but the second cracked the case. By the fourth stomp, the data media itself was torn.

Breivik didn't see the final stomps that finished the disc. He screamed like a wounded beast at the sight of his work's destruction. For the first time, he turned with real fury on his old friend. His voice howled with the betrayal that tore at his heart. "How could you, Oskar?! How?! That was years of work! My work, our work! And it's gone! All of those people died for nothing! How could you betray everything we worked for?!"

He wanted to see guilt and shame. Instead, Oskar's eyes froze him in place with the intensity of the fury he saw there. His old friend's face became a mask, the kind of mask he used to show whenever something incredibly cruel was done in his presence in the camps. "You want to speak of betrayal, old friend?" His voice vibrated with that same fury. "I made this technology to heal. It was for the humanitarian cause, for helping people overcome nerve damage, neurological condition, to regain something of their lost lives!"

"So was mine!" Breivik shot back.

"You turned it into an instrument of torture! You killed innocent people with it!"

His fury faltered, if only from the guilt the truth of those words brought up within him. "I… it was the only way! The implant was the way forward for Society! It would have ended the camps! It would have ended all of the petty sadism and cruelty we swore to oppose! The end of anti-Social thinking would have ended it all!"

"You still don't understand." Oskar shook his head. "You keep thinking you can fix Society, but all you'd do is condemn us into being turned into drones. Meat machines governed by a computer regulating our very thoughts and beings. It would be a nightmare."

"It is the only way to save Humanity from its own impulses and make Society what it should be! Without it, the camps will continue corrupting everything!"

"The camps aren't the source of the corruption, they're a sign of it," Oskar retorted. "Society has always been flawed, Jan. Always. It can't be saved. The only way to end the camps is for the League to end."

The very thought brought horror to Breivik. "Has life among the individualists driven you mad?!" he demanded. "If the League ends, Society will die! Billions will be killed in the chaos!"

"I used to think something like that," Oskar confessed. "That whatever problems existed, Society just needed a little fixing, and it could lead everyone to a peaceful galaxy. But Society, the League, it doesn't bring peace. It never did, Jan. I realized that years ago. I just wish you could realize it too."

"No! The individualists, they've tainted your mind."

There was no response from Oskar at that charge. Breivik watched the hated woman Tam'si step forward and hand Oskar a gun, his old League-issued pistol. "It's yours," she said. "Do what you need to."

Oskar took the gun and immediately leveled it at Breivik's forehead.

A quiver filled Breivik. The anger in Oskar's eyes still burned. He might pull the trigger. I have to live. I have to finish the project. "Oskar. Oskar, you can't."

"All of the people you've harmed," Oskar said. "All of that death. You're not a doctor anymore, Jan. You've become a butcher."

"This isn't you, Oskar. You never killed. Not even in the camps. You didn't kill me at Millerton, you can't kill me now!"

"I didn't kill you on Millerton, and you killed dozens, maybe hundreds, since," Oskar reminded him coldly.

"I know you, Oskar, you can't do this. You're a doctor; you want to heal. You can't!"

"I've had to kill before." Oskar's eyes tightened. Breivik's heart threatened to stop from his existential terror. He could see the forming intent to shoot in his friend's eyes.

Seconds passed. Oskar's eyes relaxed. "I am a doctor, and doctors heal. They don't kill." He lowered the weapon.

Breivik sighed. I knew it. I knew he couldn't

Brigitte's arm came up, and with it, the brown-bodied, red-lined pistol in her hand. Breivik barely had the moment to realize what she was doing before her finger tensed over the trigger.

Heat came. Oblivion followed.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The sound of the plasma shot filled the hangar. A split second later, it was joined by the smell of flesh burnt black, and then the low thud of a kneeling body falling over onto its side.

All eyes turned toward Brigitte. Oskar felt words forming, but he couldn't speak. The finality of the act, the sheer fact that his oldest friend in the world was dead, caught the words in his throat.

Brigitte returned the weapon to her holster. At the disbelieving, even hostile glares of the Sisters, she finally spoke. "I'm not a doctor."

"Mother of God." Sister Anna crossed herself, followed by Sister Patience. "God forgive his trespasses, and yours."

Maybe they expected an apology, or some sign of remorse, but Oskar knew better than to expect any. "He killed too many," Brigitte said coldly. "He tortured Tia. He had it coming." She turned to face him next. "And you know it."

"Maybe." Oskar shook his head. "But I… I still couldn't."

"That's because you're a good man and a real doctor, Oskar," she answered. She tilted her head toward the exit. "How about you go have a lie down for a while? A nice bite to eat too. You'll need your strength."

His mind went back to all of those Hestians waiting for surgery. His eyes glanced back briefly to his dead friend, the plasma burn on his forehead no longer smoking. I'm sorry, Jan. If only you'd listened to me, if only you'd realized the truth… the lives we might have saved together….

He turned back to Brigitte. "Yes," he said. "I think I will."

Without a further word, they left.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

A certain thrill filled Henry as the Liberator and her sister cruisers finished closing the distance. The fight between Aristide's task force and their allies raged still, and while the neutral systems' ships were outmatched by proper military warships, not a one of them broke and fled. Not given the stakes the League's own behavior brought them.

"We're at optimum engagement range for the neutron cannons," Miri said.

"Firing point procedures on Targets One, Two, and Four if possible, other targets at your discretion if not. Commence immediately."

Three blue beams flashed through the void. Miri's first target was one of the League Python-type ships. Its rapid maneuvering meant only one beam struck home, but with the other ship's deflectors already drained, the shot was a solid hit that speared the destroyer as if it were a fish in a stream. Explosions erupted from within and the vessel blew apart into a gutted ruin.

This commenced a general barrage from the cruisers. With the range closed and their muonic cannons more accurate than ever, they tore through the League formation like the sharks their bows were made to emulate. Another League destroyer died to the neutron cannons of the Avenger. Triumphant's muonic cannons blazed pale fury that wrecked a frigate.

The real targets were the cruisers, specifically Aristide's personal cruiser. "She's definitely on that Rand," Piper said. "The sensors are showing too much comm traffic routed to her."

"Show me?" Henry asked. Piper relayed the data to his display. The sensors of the Liberator converted the invisible energy waves of inter-ship communication into strands of red light, turning the faltering League fleet into a thinning spider web, with all lines focusing on the central ship, "Target One."

And yet… something about that didn't seem right. Henry focused his eyes on the ships and considered the strand linking Target One to Target Three. It seemed thicker than the others, as if more information was passing over that specific comm-link. He noted the way the formation moved around it. While Target One was at the heart of the formation, Target Three seemed to behave like a mirror, not quite in the middle, but always on the epicenter.

"TAO, focus on Target Three," he said aloud. "Relay that to other ships."

"Locking on now."

Both muonic cannons and neutron cannons fired. The full fury of the three cruisers came down entirely on the one older Humphries type. Her deflectors flickered against the fury, but held for the moment, if barely.

"Their deflectors are stronger than usual for that type," he observed. He opened a tac-comm message. "All ships, Target Three is the flag cruiser, I repeat, Target Three. Focus fire on her!"

By now, the rest of the League fleet was turning their full attention on the Rigault cruisers. Missiles fired at point blank range slammed into their deflectors, joined by the plasma weapons common to those League ships. They even raked auto-turrets on them. Henry felt the ship shudder under the onslaught.

"Partial deflector failure, hull damage on several sections, multiple decks," Miri said. Henry glanced her way. Most of her attention was still on the gunnery systems. If she hadn't been sent over to CIS, she'd have made one hell of a TAO. "Maintaining fire."

"Triumphant is reporting near shield loss. Avenger is trying to cover her."

The elder Tokarev brother spoke over the link. "Triumphant, maneuver to your starboard. My ships will aid you." With those words, the Morozova executed the promised maneuvering with her remaining comrades, seeking to take fire for the faltering cruiser.

More neutron cannon fire struck at Target Three. The older League cruiser betrayed her modifications, as she maneuvered with dexterity Henry found more appropriate for a Rand. Half the volley missed this time, with the remaining hits still degrading her deflectors. More fire came from another angle. Dulaney and his personal squadron joined them in their plunge into the League formation. The rest of his ships focused on the League's remaining light ships.

Cera matched their maneuvers precisely while missiles raced after them. Ahead, the League cruiser was clearly trying to break away with the rest of their ships. "Givin' ye another shot, Miri!" Cera called out. "Five seconds!"

Henry counted the time himself. At the five-second mark, Miri unloaded another barrage.

This time, their cannons all hit home.

Between the muonic weapons' raw, penetrating power and the force of the neutron cannons, the deflectors of the League cruiser failed. Explosions of atmospheric gas and debris blew outward from the many wounds the weapons carved into her. One of the neutron shots speared through her engineering area, the shaft of light coming out the other end with the flame of ignited gases plumes from both of the wounds it created. All but one of the engine nozzles on the ship died out.

"I'm picking up a power surge," Piper said. "I think they're going to try for a jump."

Given the damage she'd done after Lusitania, it wasn't hard for him to give the order, "Finish her, Miri!"

This time, the Liberator didn't fire alone. Shells from the Beja's great coilgun mounts slammed into the armored hull. While a century or so separated the Lusitanian dreadnought's weapons from the science that built the League ship, the shells had brute force behind them. They pierced the armor and detonated inside the ship's hull. The violence of their immolation sent great chunks of the cruiser's body flying away from her, torn free by the forces released.

The Liberator's neutron cannons hit home even as the ship shuddered under the plasma cannon fire of the Rand nearby. This time, the entire rear of the cruiser blew apart, followed by the rest of the ship as secondary detonations and the impact of further weapons tore the League vessel to pieces.

"Deflectors to port are failing," Miri said.

"Evasives, Cera! Get us clear!"

The feedback through the ship's failing deflectors continued to bring tremors to the CIC while Cera executed the order. The other cruisers followed. Their deflectors were in bad shape as well, and a great piece of the Triumphant's port side was missing from a direct missile hit.

"That Rand is still on us."

"I noticed." Henry watched the ship continue to pour fire into them, as if its sole mission was to kill them all. Typical League. Always poor losers.

And they were losing. That was plain from the way their formation was starting to fail. Their commander was dead or out of communication. There was no strategy, just captains trying to pursue the engagement on their terms.

The first red icon pulled out of formation, fleeing for the nearby lunar L1 point. One by one, other ships started to, although not all. The Rand certainly didn't, as it continued to hunt after the Liberator. Missiles and plasma fire poured into their failing deflectors.

"Cera, maintain course, minimize evasives."

"If ye say so, sir," Cera said. "They're still tailin'."


The reason for his reaction became clear a moment later, as the Rand maneuvered to continue pumping weapons fire into them…

…and flew right into a crossfire field formed by the Mad Hatter, Oxford, and the newly-arrived Independence.

The three ships' weapons each tore into the Rand from a different arc. With her deflectors already strained from the fight, she was at a disadvantage, and the inability to focus her remaining deflector strength in any one direction made it impossible for her to endure the concentrated fire.

What made this truly fatal wasn't just the powerful neutron cannons built into the Independence (even if one wasn't capable of firing), but the four beams from the Oxford that punched through her aft deflectors and her engine spaces. Missiles from the CDF ship slammed into the open wounds, while those from the Mad Hatter blew apart the Rand's plasma cannons. The Independence's functioning muonic cannons scourged the ship's side.

The Beja provided the coup d'grace. Her massive coilguns thundered again and the shellfire blasted into the weakened ship's side. Their detonations gutted the Rand from bow to savaged stern.

The death of the Rand spelled the end of the threat to the Liberator. On the holotank, Henry watched the last of the League ships trying to break away. But it was too late for them. They'd waited too long. Even the fleeing ships were already under fire from the pursuing fleet.

Henry considered letting them go. But if any of them managed to get the data on those damned implants back to the League… "Vidia, put me on, general hail."

"Yes, sir. I've got ya broadcastin'."

"Attention surviving League vessels. I can't allow you to depart the system right now. If you surrender and power down, I can promise fair treatment and, if you so choose, repatriation. If you continue to run, we'll be forced to pursue and disable you, and that will cause you further loss of life." Oh Lord, please. Move their hearts.

For several seconds, the ships continued to flee. The independent fleet came about to pursue, firing as they did. One of the red blips, a destroyer, vanished, a casualty of a Trinidad Station vessel's missiles. The other ships all started to slow.

Vidia spoke. "General transmission, sir."

A voice crackled over the line. "This is the LS Pollitt. I am Commander Luang Chen-Wu. We accept surrender. Please hold your fire."

"Send to all ships, hold fire," Henry ordered. "All ships hold fire. Assume positions around surrendered enemy vessels and begin S&R operations immediately." He turned to Vidia. "Let Captain Chagger know we're going to need the Majha's holds very soon."

"Tellin' her now."

The need for the Majha aside, Henry was half-worried the more aggressive captains, especially the Tokarevs, would refuse to stop. He was grateful to see his worries were unneeded as their vessels immediately obeyed the ceasefire. Various ships burned into position to surround the surrendering League craft.

We've done it. Thank the Lord, we've done it. After the hours of tense space combat, Henry let out a sigh of relief and wiped at the sweat pooling on his forehead.

Now all that remained was Thyssenbourg itself, and Director Rigault.


Antoine Rigault's world was falling apart, and nothing he could do would stop that.

Behind him, General Rousseau was busy trying to do something to reform their lines. The rebels were through their lines in two places and levering them from other defensive positions protecting the city center. The map showed the wide breakthrough made. Minute by minute, it expanded as corporate forces either fled from entrapment or surrendered upon being surrounded.

I was so close. His face twitched with fury. So close.

His last hope now faded in space, as the last League warship submitted to the arriving fleet. The surviving League troop transports were out of position. Their captains were landing elsewhere to avoid the destroyers still in orbit. If we could hold the capital, I would prefer this. Let them secure our other districts. But any success they have will be meaningless now.

I was going to be an Emperor. The thought went through his mind, vexing him, like a broken tooth he couldn't help but rub his tongue against despite the pain. Everything was set for his victory. A subdued, servile Hestia. Kepper eliminating rivals for power in the HBC and the company itself. His ships compelling favorable contracts and trade deals, destroying pirates, running that damnable Lou's fleets out of Neutral Space. Rigault Heavy Industries would've become the Rigault Empire, and he would bring order and stability to these worlds.

The minutes became another half hour, then a full one. The enemy fleet was returning to orbit. They were unnecessary; the corporate forces in the city center had already broken under the enemy attack. Their last local operational reserve was spent in the failed spoiling attack.

"Director." Rousseau's voice broke through his cold fury, winning his attention. "Enemy columns are already advancing up Tinsdale Avenue. Our barricades at the Republic Plaza have failed and another column is on Rigault Boulevard. The Council is preparing to flee the city. We should join them."

"Do so, if you wish." He slumped into a chair, sullen in defeat. "There is no point in me joining you. We've lost."

"There are possibilities. If we can escape the city and link up with other forces in the countryside, we could remain a force in being until reinforcements arrive from other worlds."

"Reinforcements." Antoine laughed bitterly. "My cruisers are the enemy's now. They will massacre any reinforcements that come."

"Surely there are other options. Other worlds that might support us, that will be hostile to Lusitania and Trinidad Station so blatantly supporting the rebels. We could still win—"

"I can't!"

Antoine's angry roar echoed in the room, drawing the attention of every officer.

Rousseau's expression turned blank. "Director?"

"Do you think I give a damn about those cowardly businessmen?!" Antoine's voice trembled with rage. "They have no vision! They have nothing but their piles of wealth, and that's all they care about!" His voice lowered, as if his rage was spent, but no, it merely smoldered, like a caldera building to another furious explosion. "I had more in mind than stocks and profit margins, I had a vision, Rousseau, a vision of real power. The kind of power that stamps itself on human memory! That's what it was all for! Not for Rigault's asset reports, but for a House of Rigault to rise and rule!" He clenched a fist. "An Empire that would echo through memory forever! That was my goal. That is why I built my fleet; that is what I spent every damn centime my family has." Fierce tears formed in his non-mechanical eye. "And I've lost it all. Lost it because my cowardly cousin and those accountants and managers were more interested in public relations, and a damn amnesty! I should have shot Tia Nguyen when I had the chance! But now…"

…now, it was over. He'd survived all this, survived the battles of the last revolution, survived that Hestian bitch shooting him in the head with his own pistol, crawled his way up the ranks regardless with the power of vision, and it was all for nothing. His dreams were ash.

He continued after a brief pause. " it doesn't matter. The Council? They're not going to escape this world, and Nguyen will shoot every one of them." Antoine gestured to the holotank. "With that fleet, with my cruisers, she can defy the corps for a long time." He laughed bitterly. "And it's all irrelevant to my family. Our stock prices will collapse. Sagittarius will learn we're nearly bankrupt. The family company is doomed. I don't care to save the others. Let them all hang."

Rousseau swallowed. "Director, are you ordering me to surrender?"

"I'm ordering you to go to Hell, General." Antoine slumped into a chair at the main table. "I don't care what route you take."

There was an answer, but he didn't care to hear it. He didn't care at all.

Not even when Rousseau broadcast the surrender of the city.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

A command vehicle bore Tia, Sarno, and their immediate commanders and staff through the battlefield of Thyssenbourg. Already Tia could see the people from the slums moving through the streets. The surrender meant an end to the fighting, but that didn't mean an end to trouble. Some of my people will want to take from the corporate stores, she thought. Others will want revenge, like Quan.

The Tia Nguyen who fought her way into that department store sixteen years ago would be thinking the same thing. She'd want goods to send to her parents and siblings, goods they'd never be allowed to even buy since company scrip couldn't purchase off-world luxuries like that, only proper currency. She'd want to send food items back until the revolutionary government got the supply chains going again, and the farms expanded. And she wouldn't give a single damn if she paid properly for any of them. No, we'd have all looted these places bare.

Not that she didn't plan on distributing the food and some of the goods. She had a lot of changes in mind, in fact. But allowing looting to begin would only bring chaos, and undermine their legitimacy immediately.

As they passed Thanh Memorial Park, they found a more recent battle. The bodies still lay in the streets in various stages of damage. Tia watched Sarno quietly sign a cross again and mumble a prayer at the sight of the bodies. White urban camo-clad Sisters, mercs with a grayer urban camo suit, Hestians in civilian clothes or tactical suits bearing the armband of the liberation forces… they remained in place, yet unattended.

"The casualties are in the thousands," noted Colonel Rochefort. The Nouveaux Gascon man represented Lou's mercenaries. His English was not so thickly accented as Tia expected. "On both sides. So far, we've accounted for about three hundred dead Sisters, fifteen hundred dead among the associated forces, and about the same in your forces, Chairwoman."

"There will be more," Tia said quietly.


All of those dead. Her mind returned to the hollowed out department store. To her dead comrades. Her martyred uncle. She felt like a stone was crushing her chest. I have to make it worth it all.

Their vehicles pulled up to the Hestian Security Force's HQ building. It was a twenty-story structure in the Government District, on the border of the Financial and Commercial Districts as well. She found it a fitting symbol for how the megacorps controlled things. Outside, troops already had captives lined up and disarmed.

Yanik walked up as they dismounted. "You will want to see this," he said to her.

She couldn't help but notice a few wounds on him. "You should go see a medic," she urged.

"I will, when this is done and you are safe. But for now, I am your protection."

The look on his face made it clear she would not convince him to leave. "Lead on, then, Yanik."

A couple of armed Hestian revolutionaries joined the group in entering the building. An armed Sister was waiting at the elevator with a key card. She swiped it before touching a button.

The lift closed. After a slight jolt, they lowered into the basement levels.

When they emerged, Tia visually scanned the arrival chamber. More soldiers, a combination of Sisters, mercenaries, and the revolutionaries stood watch at the checkpoint. Her party was waved on into a series of halls with office rooms. Toward the end of the halls was a pair of big doors. They stepped inside.

Tia recognized immediately that she was in the Planetary Command Center. A smile curled on her face. No Hestian is supposed to step foot in here. Ha. She strode into the room and looked over the various monitors showing the planet's status. The surrender in the capital was spreading swiftly across the world. The League transports and their troops had yet to surrender, but given their situation, it would come soon enough, while the rest of the planet's security forces were giving up at a rapid rate. So many of them have hurt my people. I can't just let them walk away. But I have to honor my promise.

Her attention quickly focused on one form still seated in a chair, flanked by Sisters in white power armor. She approached and looked down at the sullen expression of Antoine Rigault. "Director Rigault." She was surprised at the level tone she managed. "I'm surprised you didn't try to run, given everything you've done."

"Oh, but why should I?" The venom in his voice was unmistakable. He glared at her with both eyes. A sly smile formed on his face. "You pledged to treat prisoners fairly, after all. You wouldn't want to go back on your word now, would you?"

"I didn't plan on it. But you're not any average corporate trooper. Not with the crimes you've committed."

"Do you think you've won, Hestian?" He chuckled. "I hear you captured the HBC. You'll find them as annoying as I did. They're not going to take you seriously at all, you know."

"They'll learn to."

"Why should they? They command the economies of entire planets. They can recruit hundreds of thousands of mercenaries with fleets of armed ships, while their economic might lets them bend other worlds into sanctioning yours. The Coalition will never aid you, as you have made an enemy of the League and they wish to keep the peace." He chuckled. "And how long until your own party starts to turn your people against them with their revolutionary dogma? That's what happens whenever your kind takes power. You consume yourselves. Between the corporations and your own followers, your world is going to burn, Hestian." He leaned in as if to get closer to her. "I wonder what will happen with you. You play the merciful one now, but what happens when people resist your reforms? Not just civilians from the other worlds, but your own people? Will you end up using our methods for yourself? Or maybe you'll compromise until your own followers overthrow you. I will so enjoy finding out." He cackled. "It will be nice to see your dreams turn to ash, just as mine have."

Tia refused to let his words reach her, even though they echoed some of her own worries about what the future had in store for her and her people. "Whatever happens, at least it'll be Hestians deciding the future of Hestia, not your people. As for you, Director, you're going on trial."

He said nothing at that.

"Tia." Yanik stepped beside her again. He picked something up from the table nearby. "This is yours."

She extended a hand and took the object. The holster was as familiar as the weight of the weapon. She pulled the heavy plasma pistol out and examined its surface. Sixteen years' worth of gunfights made it feel natural in her hands.

With practiced ease, she removed the power pack. Once she had its port closed again, she set it in Antoine's lap. "I don't need this anymore," she said. "You can wear it to the gallows." She nodded to the Sisters flanking him. "Take him away and see to his confinement."

The two women glanced toward Sarno briefly before lifting Antoine and removing him from the room. Tia watched them go before directing her attention to her ally. Sarno's face was tight with concern. "You pledged amnesty and fairness. That includes Director Rigault. Even such an evil man deserves a fair trial."

"He does, and he'll get one," Tia assured her. Seeing the curiosity and relief on Sarno's face, she forced her own to relax. "I didn't intend to make you think I was going to have him hung by a kangaroo court. I'm just confident that any sane trial will establish his guilt beyond a doubt. With all of the people those experiments killed and his plan to enslave this world, I'm sure he'll get sentenced to hang."

"I would agree," Sarno said gently and with some relief in her words. "Now that you have had your satisfaction, there are other matters to attend to."

"No rest for the weary," she agreed, although she very much wished to rest some. But that would have to come later. The capital's security would have to be ensured, law and order maintained.

But first things first. She walked over and personally operated a communications station in the command room. She switched the transmitter to the GalNet connection. "Greetings, everyone. This is Tia Nguyen. It is with great pleasure that I announce the surrender of the capital of Hestia and all HSF units across the world. Hestia is now under the control of liberation forces committed to ending the exploitation of our people by the Hestian Business Council. Said Council's members are being taken into custody as we speak.

"After so many years of megacorp domination, the people of Hestia again control their own destinies." Just saying those words filled her with elation. My entire life has come to this moment. "I call upon the leaders of Hestia's political movements and parties to meet with me right away. It is important that the reform of the Hestian Republic can begin immediately and with the voices of all Hestians heard. Our people will not be subjugated again, not by offworlders and not by our own.

"I ask all communities to communicate their desires through chosen representatives. In the meantime, celebrate your liberation, for tomorrow we begin the rebuilding of our beautiful world.

"This is Tia Nguyen of the new, free Hestia, signing off."

She ended the message there and left with Yanik, Sarno, and Rochefort. They had wounded to see to—including Yanik—and she wanted to be ready for when Linh and the others came down.

Her heart skipped another beat from the pure joy filling her. Happy tears flowed from her eyes. I've done it, Uncle. We're free. We're free.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The galley had food waiting for Oskar when he arrived with Brigitte. Every muscle seemed to ache from his earlier exertions, and his neck still stung from Breivik's teeth digging into his flesh. His heart weighed heavy with the knowledge his friend was dead. Whatever his crimes, I can't forget our times together. We owed much to one another.

By the time he gathered a tray full of food, every pair of eyes in the room was on him. He recognized that the vast majority of those dining, or simply resting, were the Hestian prisoners. Some of them he'd already operated on. Others still had the implants in their necks. He sat and took a couple of bites before realizing they'd yet to look away.

He never saw where the cheer started, but soon they were all doing it. They showered him with their thanks, their gratitude and affection, their praise.

For a moment, he considered asking them to stop, but he couldn't. He couldn't bring himself to, not out of ego or pride, but because interrupting their genuine joy seemed wrong given all the suffering they'd gone through.

So he did nothing but weep silently at the undeserved adulation washing over him.


The shuttles from the orbiting fleet came one at a time, depositing passengers onto the shuttle pad for the Palace of Government. Tia stood waiting for them while admiring the new flag fluttered on the flagpoles. It had the traditional hoist-side blue triangle beside stripes of blue, white, and gold, the original flag of Hestia, with a five-pointed gold star now set into the middle of the triangle to represent liberation.

A shuttle with a blanked-out Rigault insignia deposited Henry, Linh, and the rest of the Shadow Wolf crew save Oskar and Brigitte. An older, heavily-used shuttle landed the Tokarev brothers and their chaplain, Father Vasily, while one with Lusitanian livery deposited Captain Dominguez and members of his staff. A custom-built shuttle from Trinidad Station landed Mad Jack Dulaney and some of his captains. One of the Majha shuttles deposited Kaiya.

"Welcome to Liberated Hestia, my friends," Tia said to them as they approached. "I can't express my gratitude that you came."

"Given what you showed us, Miss Nguyen, we could hardly refuse," Dulaney remarked. "Even Doctor Toussiant immediately voted to intervene."

"Prime Minister Ascaro showed the entire Cabinet and the Assembly's Select Committee on System Security," Rodriguez said. He shook his head. "She got unanimous approval from all related parties."

The Tokarev brothers nodded in agreement. Long-bearded, monkish Piotr answered for them. "The Coalition may have become cowards, but Cyrilgrad will always stand against League evil."

"They're not all cowards," Tia replied quietly, nodding to Kaiya. "You've stuck with us, Captain Chagger. You and your crew have a home on Hestia as long as you need it."

"I intend to return to Khalistan eventually, even if it is to face court-martial," Kaiya replied. "But I thank you for your courtesy, Ms. Chairwoman."

There was a low rumble in the air. All above looked up to notice one last shuttle coming in for a landing. It was unmarked and the design, outwardly at least, was a mass production model from the Coalition. It landed with a rush of air and the low whine of graviton engines. Once it was still, the side door opened. Tia didn't immediately recognize the man who stepped out, at least not personally, but she'd seen enough to know he was a CDF officer. He walked up and nodded. "Ms. Chairwoman. I'm Colonel Robert Sinclair, CDF Intelligence." His voice was accented—Anglo-British, Tia thought. Likely from New Britain itself instead of Croydon or New Cornwall or any other British-descended worlds. "Proud to have been of service."

"Thank you for your help," she said. A nod from Henry confirmed for her that this was the man in charge of the Oxford. "You risked your ship for our sakes, and I imagine your career and freedom as well."

"Career's not worth much these days, given Ostrovsky's out and Barton's still hunting for a yes-man to run CDF Intel like Jezebel Rhodes desires." Sinclair's voice betrayed a hint of bitterness. "Technically, it's not my ship either. Colonel Westbrook is the CO; I'm just the intel staff chief. But I have broad authority to overrule him, and he's a sharp chap."

"I hope he doesn't get in any undue trouble," Henry said. "Why were you out here anyway?"

"Oh, we've been sent to encourage Captain Chagger to bring the Majha back," he revealed. "Some things about avoiding a court-martial and such. Barton's afraid she's going to stir up trouble with the League."

That got a laugh from Kaiya. "He's a little late."

"Thank you all for coming, but we should get going." Tia gestured toward the door into the complex. "Mother Sarno and the others are waiting for us."

The group journeyed into the building. It was undamaged from fighting, at the very least, and they split up to take the elevators. Linh and Henry rode with Tia and Yanik. Linh gave Tia a hug. "You did it," she said. "I can hardly believe it, but we won. After all these years."

"I feel the same way about it. Like I'm in a dream," Tia confessed. "I'm scared I'll wake up and it'll be over."

"Well, don't go pinching yourself to test that," Henry advised amiably. He extended a hand. "Here, with just the four of us, I'd like to extend my congratulations. The others will on their own time, but given all I've seen of you these last fifteen years… I know how much this means. And I'm happy for you."

"Thanks, Jim. I couldn't have done it without you."

"What about the HBC?" Linh asked the question as the lift came to a stop. "Did you catch them?"

Tia nodded. "I sent the Sisters after them. They intercepted their convoy trying to flee the city over two hours ago. We're putting them under house arrest until I can meet with them, probably tomorrow or the day after. It depends on what happens here."

Another set of doors brought them to a large conference room, with multiple tables present. It had an elegant look, which implied it was more used for corporate matters than governmental, given the realities of the Republic. Tia headed toward the central table and a podium there. Through the window, the skyline of Wen Hao—Thyssenbourg was not going to be the name for long if she had anything to say about it—was still visible in the night, the buildings lit up as if the city hadn't just been a battlefield for the whole day. Most of the fires were out, at least, although she could see a couple still blazing in the far distance.

She turned back toward the assembled. The Cabinet was present, as were the leaders of every political party. Her eyes settled in the sullen, quiet figure of Felipe, but she refused to give him any further attention. They'd speak later.

"The world begins anew here," she said to them. "It's been born in pain and blood, I know, but compared to where the last world was going, and that damnable law you were ready to pass, I consider it a necessary change. Questions?"

Prime Minister Awang exchanged a glance with President Colbert, the Hestia-born son of New Gabonese workers. He gave a silent nod to Awang, who rose and spoke. "We acknowledge the surrender of the HSF and the Council," he said. "Our fates are in your hands. We invoke your promise for amnesty and fair treatment, both as individuals and in terms of our rights to stand for election."

"Fair enough," she said. She noted Quan Khánh's smoldering look. This will cost me among the comrades. "That said, you will likewise accept my party standing for election, and I expect the entire Cabinet to resign for pushing that horrible law."

"We had no choice," said another man. Tia recognized him as the Minister of Commerce Jean-Bertrand Balland, also born on Hestia of offworlder parents. "Director Rigault had the Council's permission to push the law."

You could have refused, she wanted to snarl. But you cared more for your own luxuries than the people you'd hurt!

"I'm aware of the real relation of power between the Government and the HBC," she said calmly. "That is precisely why you must resign. The people will have no faith in you."

There were stern, unpleasant looks, but Awang quickly stood again. "You are correct," he said. "And, I may remind my colleagues, more than what we expected from your movement succeeding."

She stopped herself from laughing at Awang's remark. You mean we're not putting you against the wall like you expected.

One of Awang's party members stood. He shared her coloration, and given his appearance, she could guess he was related to the Thieu family from her hometown. "I am Daniel Nhung of Xom Lang. Before this meeting, I was given word from my constituents that they wish for me to stand down. The people want you as their Assembly representative, Miss Nguyen."

She was flooded with memories of her family and neighbors at those words. With all the suffering in exile they'd experienced, hearing those words was a weight lifted from her heart. For a moment, she let that show on her expression. "Thank you, Mister Nhung. I will be glad to serve as our representative." There will have to be a formal by-election, of course. I must have legitimacy. A part of her quailed at what it all meant, but she forced the thought away. She couldn't afford to let it affect her now. "Have them hold an election immediately. In fact, I want to hold elections planetwide soon. Our constitution needs firm reform to remove the HBC's fetters. All parties will be allowed to run, and amnesty will be shown to all members of the Assembly with one exception."

"Which exception is that?" Awang asked.

"Human rights violations, by which I mean the neural control implants, the public punishment abuses, and the penal labor program." Her voice hardened. "I am personally aware that some on the Assembly, including certain party leaders, were directly involved in these matters. They will resign all offices immediately, and we reserve the right to put them on trial for abuses of human rights if we find sufficient evidence."

"Ha!" Felipe's voice carried over the room. He stood from the chair. "Don't mince words, class traitor. You mean me."

"Among others, yes, Mister Xiu," she replied coldly. "You were directly involved in the neural control program."

"I don't deny it," he said. "But it's clear to anyone that you're not here to liberate Hestia. You're here on behalf of your Coalition paymasters to destroy the workers' revolution promised by the League." He started walking toward her, slipping around one table as he did. "From whom else could you get your army? Your fleet? The Coalition!" He pointed an accusing finger toward Sarno. "You even flaunt their agents among you, as if we don't remember what was done to the revolutionary government on Monrovia! Although since you helped them there too, I shouldn't be surprised."

"You have sold yourself to the League so completely, you would stand up for the Monrovian butchers that were overthrown?" Tia asked pointedly. There is no point in debating him, but I will show him for what he is to the others. "Is that what they've reduced you to?"

"The League is our only hope for revolution," Felipe insisted bitterly. "You are a fraud."

"And you've betrayed your own people to the allies of their oppressors," she shot back, even as he took another step closer. Suspicion gripped her at his motivation. "Your resignation is expected, Representative Xiu, and once we've gone through the evidence, I wouldn't be surprised if you've done enough to justify trial. Now sit down."

"I do not recognize your authority, traitor," he hissed, moving forward again. "And I will not allow you…"

She didn't quite catch the rest of his words, as her eyes settled on his. Those eyes glistened with something like vicious pleasure and a smirk curled his lips.

That was the moment she realized his suit was hiding a bomb, and that they were all about to die.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Felipe's approach toward the podium caught the undivided attention of Yanik. He could smell the strain on the human, for one thing. He knew the species well enough to see that beyond the rage there was another emotion beneath it. Something primal.


It wasn't enough. He couldn't be sure of what the man was doing; he could only listen to the argument and try to figure out what he was doing. The rage and fear, where did it come from? His tongue flicked the air, tasting the scents, while his eyes focused on the man. There was another scent there, something about him that Yanik could feel as he drew closer.

"I will not allow you to undermine the true Revolution. The workers will triumph."

The scent. An adhesive. Tape of some kind. The realization went through his mind like a lightning bolt. He has a bomb.

His hands were free. It didn't rule out a switch, but it was unlikely. The people here were frisked. A switch would've been found. That the bomb wasn't meant it was quite carefully obscured, likely a small, advanced charge.

That meant the bomb was on a timer. His approach implied that timer was almost up.

A prayer echoed through his soul—Divine, grant me strength and speed!—as he lunged forward. The space ahead of him seemed to elongate in his vision as he centered himself on Xiu.

It felt like minutes. It took seconds. With nothing but a low, instinctive hiss, Yanik rushed across the room. His right arm and shoulder screamed in agony at the impact he made with Xiu, who let out his own shout of surprise as Yanik's mass and strength carried his target along in as powerful an embrace as he could manage. In this act, his body cried out at all the wounds and injuries being jostled. He ignored the pain, knowing it would not matter any longer.

More wounds formed. Cuts from the shattered glass as Yanik carried his foe with him through the big window. They fell into the darkness of the night sky together, a scream issuing forth from Felipe Xiu. "No!"

Yanik didn't respond. As winds whipped around him, as his blood issued from the new injuries inflicted by the glass, only his heart and soul spoke. My soul is yours, Divine.

His answer came in the flash of intense light that enveloped them both.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The explosion lit up the night sky of the Hestian capital. The resulting shockwave sent tremors through the Palace of Government, blowing in every window in a cacophony of shattering glass.

Everyone in the conference room dove for cover at the first rumble. Pieter jumped on Samina as they went down. Armored Sisters did the same to Tia and Sarno.

Slowly, everyone stood, their minds still reeling from the series of events that happened in such time, they barely had a chance to think. With everyone stunned to silence, Linh was the first to speak. "That blast could have damaged the building. We need to get out, now."

Tia heard the words. The thought cut through the confusion of the moment, not to mention the sheer shock at seeing Yanik go out the window. "Everyone out, now!"

"Take the stairs!" a voice called.

The threat of the entire group turning into a mob was a great one. The Sisters made sure it didn't, setting themselves up in sections to guide the frightened people to the stairwells. Henry led the way with Sinclair, guiding everyone to the nearest door. It led out into the Palace of Government courtyard. Here and there, a shard of glass from that upper window crunched beneath their feet.

The Shadow Wolf crew gathered as a group once they were on the ground. Linh joined them. "He had a bomb," Tia murmured to the others. "Felipe had a bomb strapped on." Her voice failed her. Now that the danger was over, she realized she and everyone else in that room were only seconds from death before Yanik acted.

"Yanik. He… he jumped out of the window." Samina looked around, as if she might find his remains. "He's… he's…" She started to weep as the truth hit her full force.

"He's gone," Vidia said. His eyes lifted upward, as if he could see the point in the air where their friend's life ended. "He died saving us. Upholdin' his obligations ta the last, as his faith commanded. May God grant him the rest he deserves."

"Amen," Henry agreed, his voice wavering with grief. The others were already tearing up, most of them too stunned to find the words they wanted to speak. He swallowed and brought his own grief under control to speak firmly. "He was our friend, and he'd want us to keep going. We've still got work to do before this business is over. Let's see to it."

"Yeah." Tia thought of what was to come. The election, of course, although that was likely to prove a formality. But afterward… She had business with the Hestian Business Council. And she didn't intend to take "no" for an answer.


After a day of quiet preparation, Tia approached the Hestian Business Council's meeting room the following morning. Antoine Rigault's words about them echoed in her ears, as did the sweet temptations of Quan Khánh's desire to execute every last one of them. They probably deserve it. Plus Lou's supposedly jumping in soon to check up on things, and so I'll have to deal with him too… ugh.

It's for our people. It's for the dead. With those thoughts in mind, resolution came to her. I won't let them goad me. I won't let them trick me. I won't let them bribe me. I will make them listen.

The guards at the double doors swung it up. For the first time, Tia beheld the chamber from which her world was misruled for so long. Befitting the nature of its usual denizens, it was more corporate board room than government conference room. A simple long table made of a tropical hardwood sat in the middle of the room. Seven seats, fine leather office chairs, lined one end of the table. After a couple of empty spaces on either side were five more seats at the opposite end. They were smaller, cheaper chairs, clearly meant for visitors or appellants, not members.

Toward one wall was a great window showing the city, while the other bore a holoprojector set over a table with spaces for coffee and tea machines. The gentle smell of the latter drink drew Tia's attention to Huang Lu Meng, who held a steaming cup of tea from his seat. The other members of the Council had coffee cups with them. Rigault's seat was obviously vacant.

"Chairwoman Tia Nguyen." The accented voice was Bohlen's. The older banker's smile was genial. Diplomatic. "I suppose I should thank you for not executing us. Your revolution has been milder than the one your uncle would have enacted."

"My uncle didn't have the luxury of loyal off-world allies," she replied. "I've come to speak with you about the changes to our world and your role here."

"And on what grounds do you speak for Hestia?" Cooper of Whalen-Scobrook asked, her voice full of challenge. "At best, your people have submitted to giving you an Assembly seat so you don't have them shot. We don't meet with members of the legislature."

"No, you meet with leaders of the government." Tia folded her hands on the table. "As of last night, that's me."

The other council members glanced at each other. Ortega spoke. "Are you meaning to say…?"

"At the request of the Assembly, I was asked to form an emergency government upon my swearing in yesterday," she replied. "I am the new Prime Minister of Hestia."

The response was silence from most of the others, but a harsh laugh came from Cooper. "Oh, how marvelous. I'm sure they'd name you anything so you didn't have them shot."

They're going to try and provoke me, she reminded herself. I won't let them. Aloud, she said, "We're seeking immediate constitutional reforms. Among those reforms will be an end to your role in our government."

"By the law of Hestia, we must be consulted on all new governments," Bohlen said. "As we haven't yet advised of your appointment, you cannot be Prime Minister. Nor were we consulted about removing your political party from the ban on electoral participation. You're not even a legal member of the Assembly."

"The only thing you've got going for you are guns," Cooper added. "The fact you're here and not having us shot means you know your new government is weak and isolated. You need us. More than we need you, frankly."

"Among the reforms will be an end to your so-called 'advisory' role," Tia continued, ignoring their attempts to goad her. "Furthermore, the penal labor facilities are being reclaimed by the government, all prisoner labor suspended, and political prisoners amnestied. After their suitable clean-up for safe working conditions, local communities will be granted ownership and the jobs given to proper workers."

"We have cast-iron contracts for the operation of those facilities," Yamaguchi protested.

Tia forged on. "And in light of your misrule and abuse of Hestian labor, I'm intending to expropriate your other holdings, to be granted to the workers who operate them as compensation for those abuses."

"So you intend to steal our property," Huang said. "As we anticipated."

"Before we get into why your policies would be disastrous for your people, Miss Nguyen, we will provide you a diplomatic alternative," Bohlen said. "We grant that there have been unfortunate abuses on this world. Men like Director Rigault have broken the compact between our companies and your people. We will concede as much."

"A concession I find empty."

Bohlen ignored her with ill-concealed contempt. "We will advise President Colbert and Prime Minister Awang to allow your party to stand for elections. And we'll happily agree to a reform of the justice system. The HSF will be reconstituted with a higher proportion of Hestian members, including field officers. The penal labor system will be examined by a joint committee and recommendations for reform accepted."

"And what of the Food Quality Control Act? The Fair Compensation Laws? The Employer Security Act? Will you still leave us on the edge of starvation without imports, force us to accept company scrip as wages? Will the blacklist continue to be legally allowed?"

"Some… revision of those laws may be allowed as well."

Tia snorted contemptuously. "In other words, you will reform little but pretend you are doing much. And we will be right back where we started. I do not accept this, and nor do my people."

"Consider the alternative." Bohlen folded his hands together. "Let's say you carry on your radical political agenda. You expropriate our holdings. Do you know what happens next? A complete, utter end to all interstellar trade to Hestia."

"Your new government won't be recognized by anyone," said Cooper. "We'll help set up a government in exile that will control Hestian diplomatic offices. Meanwhile, we'll sue in the courts, yours and those of other worlds, for the theft of our property. We'll demand that the income from all Hestian exports be seized and provided to us as compensation. Your new government will earn no new hard currency with which to pay for any imports."

"You will be embargoed as well," added Jardin. "We'll see to it. Every government we have influence in will do so. Even those we don't will join for fear that sanctions will be expanded to them. Even if you had the money, you wouldn't be able to purchase the things you need on the interstellar market. Not at any reasonable rate."

"How much influence do you think you'll have as news of Rigault's neural control project spreads?" Tia asked harshly.

"We weren't involved in that," said Huang. "That was young Rigault's indiscretion, and you're welcome to punish him for it. His cousin will hopefully appoint a more reasonable replacement to his seat. Indeed, we've been led to expect the arrival of the new representative today."

"Our own minutes will show that we did not support the devices." Bohlen shook his head. "I'll admit we did not stop him from asking for the new law, but he was head of security and insisted it was necessary. We can't be blamed if he misdirected us."

"Allying with the League like he did." Cooper shook his head. "After Lusitania, people should be smarter than that."

"To get to the point, Miss Nguyen. Your people need food imports, and it will take time to get your own food production high enough to feed your world. If you seize our property, you won't be able to afford that food."

"President Fuentes may not see things your way."

The Council members grinned impishly. "I think you'll find the Terran Coalition unwilling to intervene so strongly in Neutral Space. You are not palatable to either side of their political divide. The anti-League parties have no love for socialism, so you won't be getting their sympathies when they hear about your expropriations. As for Fuentes and the Peace Union, they've already denounced you. The peace treaty with the League is more important to them. No, you'll find no aid in that quarter."

She said nothing in response to that. Sinclair already made it clear to her that help was still unlikely from the Coalition.

"Miss Nguyen, I don't want you to get the wrong idea," Bohlen said, returning to his soothing tone. "We recognize that you're not as bloodthirsty as Director Rigault claimed. The fact we are breathing testifies to that. We're willing to give some concessions, but we will not allow our decades of investment into Hestia to be undone. We built your world into what it is. We won't allow you to kick us out in any way. And given your behavior, I'm betting you won't starve your own people to win."

When the smile formed on her face, Tia thought she could see some bewilderment come to theirs. She found that gratifying. "I'm not as friendless as you think," she said. "I've already received a solid pledge of support from Cyrilgrad, including offers of food exports."

"They're a jumped-up pirate colony," Ortega declared dismissively. "They can't feed you."

"No, but Lusitania… they'll help." Tia leaned forward, keeping the grin on her face. "Prime Minister Ascaro and I have already spoken by QET. I informed her of my plans and she accepted the justice of them. Lusitania's willing to continue trading with Hestia. My people may need to get used to new cuisine, but they won't be starving like you think."

The looks on their faces turned vicious. "Ascaro won't be in office forever," Cooper hissed in a tone of voice that made it clear she'd be personally invested in ensuring the matter. "Lusitania has many politicians who won't sacrifice trillions of credits of economic activity for your shithole planet, Hestian."

"I wasn't finished." Tia shook her head. "You've also forgotten the League and Coalition aren't the only powers. The Saurian Empire is strong as well, and they hate the League of Sol. I'm sure I can make arrangements with them."

"They're also isolationists, and aliens," Huang retorted.

Rigault was right, she thought bitterly. They're convinced they can still win. And they may be right.

But I can't submit to them. It would make all the bloodshed for nothing.

The quiet was broken by the opening of the door. Tia noted the irritation on Bohlen's face turn to outright anger, with Cooper and the others showing various levels of contempt or shock. She turned to see who'd entered.

With steady, firm strides, Frank Lou walked up to the table. "My apologies," he said, straightening his white business suit. He wore the Chinese ideograph insignia of his company as a pin for his dark gray tie. "We burned in as quickly as we could."

"What are you doing here, Lou?" Cooper hissed.

"I'm here to take my rightful place."

Tia stared in surprise as Lou strode over to the HBC side of the table. He pulled out the Rigault chair and lowered himself into it. A smile crossed his face as he rolled himself back up to the table. "How are negotiations proceeding?"

"Chairman, this is outrageous!" Cooper's voice oozed offended rage. "This… this Hestian stowaway has no right to be here! I move that the session be suspended until he is removed!"

"I second," Huang added.

"You are not an approved member of this Council, Lou," Bohlen said, his voice rather more controlled, even if his anger clearly simmered. "Leave."

The Hestian tycoon's response was laughter. It took him a few moments to reduce it to titters, at which he resumed speaking. "I do so frighten you, don't I?" he asked confidently. His mood, his voice; it all made him look almost intoxicated with how giddy he behaved. "I've been your bogeyman for twenty years. It's like you can't stand that a filthy Hestian peasant became as rich as you all." His grin sharpened. "Richer, in some cases."

Lou, what the hell are you up to? Tia said nothing. She wanted to see where her ally was going with his performance.

Bohlen opened his mouth to speak, but Lou continued before he could. "Yes, I'm well aware of your rules banning me, personally, from ever sitting on this Council. But that's no longer valid."

"Whatever do you mean?" Huang asked.

Tia noticed Bohlen's face start to pale.

"I see my friend from Trifid Commercial Trust has already figured it out." Lou leaned forward. "Under the rules, no founding corporation can ever be denied a seat here."

"And you're not a founding corporation, Lou," Cooper said.

"I wasn't, true." He folded his hands on the table. "But I am now, as Lou Shipping and Transport is the new primary shareholder of Rigault Heavy Industries, a founding corporation of this august body." He spoke the latter with particularly vicious sarcasm. "This is my seat now, and I've appointed myself to hold it for the time being, as is my right under HBC bylaws."

Tia's mouth dropped open in shock. What did he say?!

The other members of the Council, save pale Bohlen, were just as surprised. "Im… impossible," Cooper stammered. "You're not that wealthy! The Rigaults would never sell anyway!"

"They didn't have a choice, Mrs. Cooper." Lou's grin was almost predatory. "You may have noticed that your companies' stocks took quite a hard tumble since Prime Minister Nguyen announced her successful takeover?"

"We're aware," Bohlen said woodenly.

"Well, as it turns out, Rigault's stock tumbled even further as certain financial facts came to light. You see, Rigault was virtually bankrupt before this revolution succeeded."

Tia watched the blood drain from the faces of the other Council members.

"Yes, you're realizing it now," Lou remarked. "I had my suspicions, and once I saw what Antoine Rigault was up to, I realized it was true. So I was ready for Prime Minister Nguyen's victory. Once it was publicly known that Hestia fell to her forces, I waited until the stocks dropped and started buying Rigault stock. Once I had enough to ask for a stockholders' meeting, I convinced the shareholders to compel the books to be opened for us. They were rather horrified to find the true state of the company finances. They couldn't get on their links fast enough to sell their shares. I made a few generous offers that many found irresistible."

While the other members of the HBC reeled from this news, Tia swallowed and tried to control herself. He played us all, she thought. This is why he backed me. So he could steal Rigault's company for himself! She wanted to choke with rage.

"I suspect the Council and the new authorities aren't seeing eye to eye," Lou continued, breaking the quiet once more. "I think I may have a mutually acceptable solution." Seeing he had their attention, he charged on. "Allow the Hestian government, or local communities, to purchase your holdings to do with as they see fit. Payments over time, perhaps. Combined with necessary reforms and new laws to ease the situation for Hestian workers, a repeal or reform of certain laws like the Food Quality Control Act, and that should be enough to match your property rights to Prime Minister Nguyen's economic policies."

The word "compensation" brought a snarl to Tia's face. Like hell! was her instinctive reaction. They've earned enough wealth from our labor! Only with great effort did she hold her tongue.

The Business Council glanced at one another. They were still stunned, that much was plain by the looks on their faces.

After no response came to the suggestion, Lou spoke again. "Chairman Bohlen, I would move that we hold a recess. It's clear this has been a trying time for all involved, yourselves included. Once we've had a break, maybe we'll be better able to discuss my general proposal."

Bohlen snapped up the opportunity. "Yes. The Council is now in recess." The moment he spoke, the others fled the room like it was plagued.

Tia didn't. She rose from her chair and approached Lou. "You bastard," she hissed. "You smug bastard."

Lou stood from the Rigault chair. "Prime Minister. Congratulations on your victory."

"Don't play me!" she shouted. "This was never about the liberation of Hestia! This was about you being a typical exploiting capitalist bastard! You did this to buy out Rigault!"

A small smile creased his face. "I do admit I wished to," he said. "I knew it would crash their stock prices if HBC control of Hestia collapsed. Maneuvering myself into position for a buyout was rather easy afterward."

"Thousands of people are dead," Tia said. "All so you could get more wealth!"

"No." With that word, the giddiness Lou showed earlier was gone. He wasn't even reserved like before, in their strategy meetings. His voice was hard, harsh, and he sounded offended. "No, not just wealth." His eyes glared at her. "I understand you and I don't see eye to eye on economics, Prime Minister."

"I think you're just as exploitative as they are!"

"Is that what you see when you look at me?" he asked.

"Yes! You're a capitalist, just like them!"

"Ah." His hard tone turned somber as he turned to face the window. Their reflections showed faintly on the glass surface, beyond which the skyline of Wen Hao spread out before them. "Well, I have no one to blame for that but myself. That's the image I've cultivated for decades. But do you know what I see, Prime Minister? Do you know what I see when I look into a mirror?"

She wasn't in the mood for word games. "What?" she snapped.

"I see a Hestian boy who had to leave his home to get ahead in life," Lou replied. "It was the only way to be something more than a glorified slave."

Tia bit her lip.

Evidently, he took her silence as an invitation to continue. "Buying out Rigault will make me even wealthier over time, yes. But that's not why I did it. I needed Rigault's seat on the HBC to fulfill my true objective."

"And that is?" she asked, managing not to hiss the words.

His eyes bored into her own, straight into her very being. "You saw my grandchildren on the Vesta. They are of Hestian blood. And I want them to be raised on their homeworld as free citizens. I want them, and every new generation of Hestians, to live a full life under our Hestian sky, eating our Hestian foods, paid fair wages in Hestian bhats, I want them to enjoy being Hestians. I want Sagittarius to stop seeing us as the uncultured serfs of megacorporations and start seeing us as a people." He said every word with careful deliberation, as if long-practiced. "I want our people to have their rightful place in the stars. I have risked everything I have on that coming true. And that includes risking everything on you."

His words resonated within her. Her suspicion of him didn't go away, couldn't, but she didn't hear falsehood in them. Indeed, she could feel the aggrieved pride, the raw yearning, in his speech. Enough that she believed he meant it. "So what now?" she asked.

"One day, we may be political enemies," he said. "Or you and my children will be foes, should it come after I die. That's inevitable. What matters is how we see each other at this moment. If we're to win, I can't be a megacorp-owning capitalist, and you can't be a revolutionary socialist. We must be Hestians."

"I'm not letting you undermine the economic policies I want to pursue," Tia warned. "I'm giving those properties to the Hestian people."

"And I won't stop you. Our people must learn to own things, whichever of our systems they eventually embrace. For the time being, we're going to be busy with that."

She nodded. "We also need to expand our farmland and open up the fisheries. We need to become self-sufficient in food so we can't be held hostage again. That will mean cleaning up the environmental damage the megacorps caused."

"Agreed. That'll take time and money."

"It should come from them."

"It will, indirectly, but only if they can show something for it." He turned his head to the table. "They'll accept an end to their control, and eventual divestment, if they can report they'll get something from it. I'm sure they blustered about sanctions and embargoes, but they know they likely won't get anything for that in the long run. A gradual, compensated divestment, however, well, given the alternatives, they'll need to be mad to turn down the deal."

"It's better than they deserve."

"Agreed. But it's the best way for our people too. We can use the divestment period to enact management changes. The local communities can replace the offworld managers. Over time, they'll buy the megacorps out, and all the while, Hestia's economy continues to function, we can afford to clean things up and expand food production, and our people get to eat."

"They're not getting full value," Tia insisted.

"Indeed not, and they'll settle for that over nothing."

Despite herself, Tia found his recommendations interesting. She didn't want to create a centralized state; that was a mistake too many socialists made over history. The people of each community should enjoy the fruits of their labor, not have them distributed by a distant government.

"We should get a proposal finalized, you and me," Lou said. "They'll recover soon enough."

"Alright." She nodded. "Let's move on to political reform then."


With the end of the day came an end to the talks with the HBC. Despite Cooper's efforts to deny Lou's new seat, Bohlen ruled for him each time, and the entire Council turned on her. They were far more interested in the proposals Tia submitted and which Lou pushed for. While the deal wasn't done yet, it wasn't dead either.

The end of the meetings didn't mean an end to Tia's day. She had to deal with her own people now. Her party comrades, eager to be assured she didn't sell them out, and other party leaders desperate to distance themselves from Rigault. But first, she had something more important to do.

Awang was out of the Prime Minister's official residence at 39 Tinsdale now. She arrived at her new abode to find the others waiting in the parlor. Her surviving comrades of the Shadow Wolf stood or sat here and there. Oskar looked as exhausted as she was. "It's good to see you again," she said. "I heard you destroyed their work."

"I did," he answered. "I'm not done with the surgeries."

"Doctor Singh from the Majha is training other surgeons on removing the implants safely," Brigitte said. "You won't need to do them all."

"I know." He let out a sigh. "But that's not what matters right now. We're here for Yanik."

The mention of their slain comrade's name silenced the room. "He was so nice," Samina said. Tears formed in her brown eyes. "And such a good man. I hope he made it to Paradise."

"Of course he did," Vidia said. "God knows him as He knows us all."

Miri smiled softly at that. "A rather sobering thought, but true."

"I'll never forget the fright he gave us when we stowed aboard the Wolf." Brigitte smiled. "A great big bloody lizard man. We'd heard the tales but never seen a Saurian before. About pissed myself."

Beside her, Piper wiped a tear away. "He was a gentle giant."

"Right good man." Pieter looked around. "How about we have a toast?"

Cera nodded in agreement. "Aye, I'm good for that. For Yanik, an' Felix tae."

While she was new to the place, Tia didn't have trouble finding a cabinet with liquor. Not just any liquor either. Awang drinks Thanh too. I suppose he has some taste. The others joined her, each accepting a glass, and she poured a shot for each of them, save Samina and Henry, who returned from the kitchen with glasses of water. Once they were ready, she put the bottle down and raised her glass. "To Yanik and Felix, and all of our fallen comrades," Tia said.

"To the fallen," Henry agreed, his own glass coming up. "They gave their lives for us."

Every glass rose to join them. "To the fallen!"

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Tia saw the others off. She offered them rooms, but Henry already had rooms rented in a nearby commercial hotel. "We're honest spacers. We're not going to mooch off you, Madame Prime Minister," he teased her upon leaving.

While it was a friendly tease, it left her feeling melancholy. After changing into a nightgown, she retired to the private study with the bottle of Thanh and a glass. Awang had digital readers and printed books he'd yet to take out, but she wasn't interested in them. She wasn't interested in anything but her own thoughts.

I should be happy. I'm the leader of my people, by their own acclamation. I'm free of the implant. My people are free of the megacorps, whatever deal gets worked out. We won. After all these years, we won.

The melancholy didn't go away. Not when her mind went to those intervening years. Seeing all of those worlds and places while serving on the Shadow Wolf. Proudly voting in elections for the ISU, even attending ISU meetings when able. It'd been a good life. Rewarding. Worthy.

But that was all gone now. Her ship was destroyed. She'd lost more comrades in the war, giving it a bitter tinge. And now duty had her shackled even more thoroughly than that damned implant. The implant that would undoubtedly be responsible for many nightmares over the rest of her life.

I wasn't supposed to be the leader. She shook her head at her own remark. But I'll carry this burden if I must. It's worth it for my people. She took a drink of the Thanh. It felt good burning its way down. My people are what matters.


She turned her head. Linh entered, wearing plain clothes and holding a tablet in her metal hand. "Linh?"

"We're getting more figures from the districts. The planetary election's not being held yet, but they're already voting in managers for taking over the work sites. Every mine, factory, farm, and ranch will have worker-elected supervisors by the end of the week, if this keeps going."

A smile crept across Tia's face. "Good," she said. "It's about time our people worked for themselves. I'm happy they're taking the opportunity."

"We're probably going to win the Assembly at this rate." The enthusiasm in Linh's voice would have infected anyone else. "We might have to caucus with some of the other liberationist parties, but we're certain to get a solid government committed to economic reform."

"Good." Tia took another drink and said no more.

Linh finally seemed to notice her mood. "Are you all right?"

"I'm nostalgic, and I'm afraid," Tia admitted. "I miss the Shadow Wolf."

"Ah." Linh nodded. "I'm going to miss Trinidad Station too."

"You decided not to go back? You were certain to be elected Secretary of the Dockworker Guild."

"I know, and I'll miss that opportunity." She shook her head and sat down on the couch nearest the desk chair Tia was in. "But this is my home. I want to help rebuild it, in whatever way possible."

"I'm sure you'll be busy enough fixing those cruisers up."

"For now, although I'm not sure we can easily afford them. We'd need a supporting fleet," Linh pointed out. "Destroyers, frigates, corvettes. Hestia can't afford something like that right now."

"Hmm. We'll find a solution." Tia held up the bottle. "A drink, Linh?"

"Certainly." After Linh had a glass and some liquor to fill it (and her in turn), she returned her attention to Tia. "So I get why you're nostalgic. But what are you afraid of?"

"Myself. The future." Tia sipped at the liquor. "Being the leader of Hestia is a lot of weight. It's not something I ever dreamed of having, nor did I want it."

"That's what qualifies you more than others," Linh assured her.

"Maybe. But I am going to make enemies of our own. Our party comrades, your cousin; they want justice. Some want us to take over directly. We died fighting after all, why share power? And they won't be patient for the compromises I might have to make." Her eyes turned distant. "The compromises I've already made. I worry I might betray the things we stand for."

"Quan's angry at the moment, true, but I'm working on him," Linh promised. "The Truth and Reconciliation Committee is going to heal Hestia more than the trials he wants."

"There will be trials, for those who went too far. But honest Hestians trying to survive, well, we can forgive them, even if we can't forgive what they did. What they were made to do."

"The opposition parties are another matter. He's not the only comrade thinking the Social Conservatives and some of the other collaborators should be banned just as we were."

"I know. But I don't want to replace the HBC as autocrats, deciding what voices get to be heard. And banning them would make it sound like they fear them, and we shouldn't." Even as she spoke the words, Tia recognized she wasn't being honest with herself, not entirely. "I admit a part of me wants them to be punished for letting the megacorps get away with so much. Sixteen years ago, I'd be throwing them against a wall, just as Quan wants."

"We all would, I think," Linh confessed. "But time changes us."

"Not just time. The people we meet. The comrades we make." Tia glanced toward the window. "Jim and the others, even Felix; they softened my edges. They made me willing to consider alternatives and question myself sometimes."

"You regret that?"

"I don't know." Tia shrugged. "What do you think, Linh?"


"Am I betraying the others? Ngoc, Thuần and Mathilde, Nhung, Quang, Kanda." She listed the name of every member of their old cell with grief and doubt. "Have I betrayed our dead comrades with my compromises?"

"No." The answer came automatically. Linh shook her head to emphasize it. "We won, Tia. Our people are free. They would cheer that more than anything else."

The sigh that came from Tia wasn't entirely one of reassurance, merely acceptance. I must continue this path, she thought. Whatever the future holds.

And with my mind on distasteful things… She brought out her link and made a call.

"Yes, Tia?" Miri answered.

"Miri, now's as good a time as any to deal with Kepper." She frowned. "As much as I'd love to execute the bastard for killing my comrades, we made a fair bargain and he honored it. We have to let him go."

"Yes, it's important to honor such promises," Miri agreed. "Don't worry. I'll handle everything in the morning."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The door to the makeshift cell opened. The forcefield projector shut down. Kepper smiled quietly as Miri walked into the room. "I hear congratulations are in order," he said. "You won. Is Rigault alive?"

"Yes, and in custody. He'll be going on trial for crimes against humanity, among other things." Miri approached him.

"So the work's done. I lived up to my end of the bargain." Kepper raised his arms to gesture toward his restraints. "I hope you're here to do the same."

As he spoke those words, he wondered if his gamble would fail. It was only at the slight disgust showing on her face that he was reassured. Nguyen's a woman of her word, he thought. I'll have to give her my card. Whatever image she wants to project to the galaxy, I'm sure she'd like a few HBC members to take a dirt nap.

While he thought these things, he refrained from moving, allowing Miri to unlock his restraints. She bent low to free his ankles. He watched her intently as she worked on the ankle monitor. It took her a few moments to deactivate all of the security features employed to thwart him from sabotaging it. When it was done, she pulled it away. "This way. We've brought the Nimrod back for you."

He nodded. "After you, Miss Gaon."

She led him out into the corridors of a transport ship. He kept a careful eye out for trouble. None came, and after a few minutes, they were in a cargo hold. His ship was already there, waiting. "She's refueled completely," Miri said. "You're free to go."

"Excellent working with you, Miss Gaon. Good luck out there." He gave her a salute, two fingers to his temple, before entering the ship. He locked the airlock behind him.

He flew the ship free of the transport. They were not far from Hestia's moon, and the solar S2 point wasn't far. He programmed the ship's course out that way before getting to work.

Panel by panel, piece by piece, the entire ship was opened up. His equipment meticulously scanned for the slightest trace of a transmitter left aboard. When his search proved fruitful, he checked his space suit, brought the Nimrod to a relative stop, and made a complete search of her hull for micro-QETs or any other trackers.

After over an hour of checking, he felt confident that he was free and clear. She's a tricky one, he thought, reassuring himself that his measures were warranted. But she knew better. Good for her. He walked over the hull to the main airlock and opened it.

Once he was out of his space suit and back at the helm control, he resumed his course to the system jump limit. It was time to see what other work was waiting for him.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The courtyard of the Palace of Government was packed with spectators. Assembly Members, their families, visiting members of the allied fleets, the Shadow Wolf crew… everyone who deserved to be there was there, as well as local residents and visiting reporters from the nearest worlds.

The podium was marked with the new gold-starred seal of the Hestian Republic. After a few remarks with Shahkrit, who was in the running for the Assembly seat for Hue, she walked up to the podium. A gesture from a technician told her they were transmitting over both planetary comms and the GalNet. All of Sagittarius would see this.

"People of Hestia and our neighbors in Sagittarius, a pleasant day to you all," she began. "I am pleased to announce that my new government has finalized a deal with the Hestian Business Council. Under these terms, the Council will no longer have a role in the governance of Hestia, and substantial reform will continue. The first constitutional reform has already been passed, returning complete electoral choice to the people, which they will enjoy in the upcoming elections. From now on, Hestians will decide the future of our world."

Cheers answered her.

"While we will decide our future for ourselves, we acknowledge that our liberation came with the aid of offworld forces. Hestia will not forget the sacrifices of those who died so that we may be free. We will show them the gratitude they are due. As such, the protections of the new constitution will apply to offworlders as well as citizens. Freedom of choice, of religion, and all other freedoms that are the common right of living beings will be the heritage of our world."

The speech continued on, affirming the immediate changes to management, the gradual ownership change, and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Tia could tell the policies were not universally popular, but there was no surprise to that. Hestians were no different from any other people. In the end, what mattered was that their world belonged to her people again.

Once the speech was over, Tia stepped back. As the crowd dispersed, she walked over to the attending dignitaries and started shaking their hands, thanking them in turn.

From Dulaney, she received a simple instruction: "Take care of Chief Khánh. She may be one of yours, but as far as we're concerned, she's still one of ours."

Mother Sarno smiled pleasantly at her. "So far, you have done as well as I could ever hope," she assured Tia. "Rule with justice and God's blessing will remain with you."

"We'll want you back," Tia said to her. "For the memorial."


"The Liberation Memorial, for the park where we landed. It's going to represent every group that came to liberate Hestia. A Sister will be standing tall with the others."

"It is not our way to seek such remembrance," Sarno protested gently. "But I will come to honor all who fell here."

Next came her old crewmates. She started with Samina, who nearly gave her a hug before remembering herself. The young woman extended a hand. "It's been great working with you, Tia. I'm going to miss you."

"And I'll miss you. Linh will too."

Pieter's hand was ready. "It's been great serving with you, Tia. If you ever get tired of being a politician, make sure to look us up. Good spacer hands are hard to find."

"You know I will."

Oskar nodded and gave her his hand. "At least one of us exiles gets to go home," he said warmly. "I'm happy for you."

"Maybe you will too, one day."

Brigitte was next, and she overheard the entire exchange. "My home's the spaceways," she said. "If the damned League ever goes down, the only thing I want from my homeworld is finding my Aunt Kallista."

For a moment, Tia imagined Uncle Guillaume was beside her. I hope you'd be proud of me, Uncle. "I hope you find her."

"I'm going to miss you too," said Piper. "You taught me how to be a real spacer, not just a stargazer."

"And if my lessons stick, I hope you make a fine First Mate."

Piper sighed in resignation. Tia grinned at her for that reaction.

Cera was next. "I'll miss ye, Tia, an' all yer complaints about my flyin'."

"And I'll miss the near-heart attacks you gave me, you reckless daredevil." Tia allowed herself a laugh while shaking Cera's hand. She stepped up to Vidia with her hand still raised. "Vidia, you take care of everyone, alright?"

"I'll do what I can," he promised. "I know ya never sought my spiritual advice, but I'm glad I was of help ta ya anyway."

"You did more than you know." She took another step to the last, but certainly not least, of her former crew standing there. Henry nodded at her and offered her a hand. "Jim, thanks for everything."

"You're welcome, Tia. You've been the best XO a skipper can ask for, and now you've got your own ship."

"And she's a big one too," Tia said. "I hope I can keep her steady."

His eyes shone with assurance. "I have faith you will."

As she stepped past him, tears filled her eyes. She might never work with them again, and deep down, she didn't want to say goodbye.

Or maybe I'll lose the next election and follow Pieter's advice to go become a spacer again, she mused.

The Tokarevs came last. Piotr looked every inch the monk, with his long beard, while Pavel had a more introspective, scholarly look. "God bless your rule, Prime Minister," the younger Tokarev said. "Know that Cyrilgrad will be your comrade in arms forever."

"Thank you." She couldn't quite keep the discomfort from her voice. "Your people are welcome to send missionaries, the same as Sister Sarno."

"The Church will plant seeds here, yes, and it will strengthen our brotherhood, but we are your comrades regardless." Pavel narrowed his eyes. "You seem concerned, Prime Minister. Is there a problem?"

"I'm just surprised you're not angry with me," she admitted. "I honored my deal with Kepper. I let him go instead of having him face justice for the people he's hurt. I heard from Miri he killed one of your church members on Harron."

"Yes, we know," Pavel said. "But you were honoring your word. Honesty is a virtue in the eyes of God."

"Yes. Do not worry." Piotr grinned. "Justice will be done to Kepper, by God's will, wherever he goes."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

A couple jumps away, Kepper watched the press conference over his encrypted GalNet connection. The raw feed continued even after the speech ended, allowing him to see Nguyen speak with the Tokarevs. He couldn't see her mouth, but he saw theirs, and his lip reading was more than enough to understand their words.

I'm not worried about some colony world yokels, he thought to himself. The League's a threat. You're just

His ship howled a warning, drawing his attention to the sensor display. The proximity sensors showed a wormhole forming almost on top of him. That's too close! He reached for the jump controls. Time to jump out.

His eyes spied the monitor. Through the wormhole flew a recognizable ship, marked with Cyrillic lettering on the side. The system translated immediately.


His ship showed the jump engine was ready. He reached for the control to open the wormhole, just for the ship to rock violently under him. Alarms went off and a status screen showed the entire rear of his ship turn black. The Morozova's weapons hit dead center on his jump drive, blowing out the entire engine compartment in the process.

A moment later, a pale beam snagged his vessel. He was in the grip of an energy grappler. They had him.

No. No, no— NO DAMMIT! His face twisted in fury. He knew full well, at that moment, he was good as dead, and he couldn't figure out how his fortunes turned so quickly. How did they find me?! I searched everywhere for trackers; there's no way—

A memory came to him. Kepper looked down at his feet.

Or rather, his left ankle.

He bent down and slipped the fingers of his right hand into the inside seam of his left trouser leg. His fingers probed the area for several seconds until he felt a contact against the tip of his index finger. With care, he gripped it and pulled it out to look at it.

A micro-QET transmitter sat on his finger. The lethal device was a mere dot of pale gold, but it'd killed him as certainly as a bullet or bomb would have.

She tricked me! Instinctive rage and terror came with that thought, as he remembered Miri Gaon removing the ankle monitor from the same leg. She'd done it quite speedily too. How had he overlooked that? How could he be so sloppy as to not double-check his own clothes? Now the Tokarevs had him, and he was going to die. And it wouldn't be pleasant!

Considering all that, one would be justified in thinking he lost his mind as Kepper started laughing.

Well done, Ms. Gaon. You played me brilliantly and I fell for it. He dropped back into his seat and sighed, even as his ship was pulled toward the hangar deck. Maybe I should have retired after all.


After the announcement came the celebration reception, catered at the hotel where Henry roomed them all. The large ballrooms, formerly host to all sorts of corporate functions, was festooned with gold stars and the flags of various Hestian parties in the liberation movement, as well as the national flag itself.

It went without saying that the entire crew was invited. Despite the occasion, they all chose to wear spacer outfits, save Tia herself, given the dignity of her new position. Brigitte defiantly kept her mohawk-and-cornrows hair style, although she adorned her hair with the colors of the Hestian national flag for today. They scattered about the reception, enjoying the food and talking with the other attendees.

All save Oskar. He remained to one side of the room, quietly enjoying a pastry and a glass of Hestian rice wine. After everything, his heart still felt heavy and twisted, and the weight causing it was Jan's.

His friend's betrayal and abuse of his technology continued to make him angry. Yet he couldn't stop mourning for him. Breivik's death didn't stop him from thinking of their old times together. The work they did, the confidences shared, all of their little attempts to show compassion in those hells… he couldn't just forget that.

But neither could he forget the way Breivik abused his work. Nor, for that matter, could he forget that it was his work in the first place. Would he have done such things if not for my work?

While he was in his own mind, he didn't miss the approach of Tia and Linh. Tia was in an elegant-looking women's business suit, blue jacket over white vest and shirt with blue pants, while Linh wore a more modest blouse over pants. "Doctor," Tia said. "Oskar. You don't look like you're enjoying yourself."

"I suppose I am still haunted by everything," he confessed. "But, please, don't let that detract from your party. This is your triumph, Tia."

"Thank you. Anyway, Linh and I had something to discuss with you."


Linh indicated her metal right arm. "I know what you were trying before," she said. "I was lucky that my nerves were intact enough for the prosthetic to work. There are a lot of people who aren't, including some of the survivors of the revolution. Depending on the damage, some can't even have a clone limb replacement done. So I've been thinking about your technology and all of the people it could help if it was applied right."

Oskar pursed his lips for a moment. "Yes. That was my original intent. The nerve damage could be bypassed by a wireless interface between the brain and a prosthetic. But it's been so long, and I never got far due to my work being hijacked for the neural control project. With all of the data lost, I would have to restart everything anyway."

"Would you?" asked Tia.

You tempt me, my friend. Oskar considered the question silently. "It will cost," he said. "The electronics involved will be sophisticated, given the need for interfacing with the brain and nervous system."

"I'm not surprised, but the Hestian government should earn enough to get you started, at the very least," she answered. "As a humanitarian project, to help our people and those on other worlds."

The temptation wrestled with all of the guilt he felt. This technology is too dangerous, he protested to himself. Someone could repeat Jan's abomination!

Unable to decide yet, he peered into her eyes. "Why would you want me to? This work caused you so much suffering."

"It did, but I can separate that from what you'd do with it," she assured him. "A lot of what I'm trying to do here is about moving on from the past. I want to build a better world for my people, for their future. Your work can help with that. And it's a better way of dealing with the knowledge than dwelling on what Breivik did with it." She took his hand. "Oskar, you're a wonderful, compassionate man, and a worthy doctor and surgeon. Please, let me help you show that to the galaxy. Don't let your guilt over what happened hold you back."

He took in a breath. Even now the guilt filled him, as did his grief and anger over Breivik. His initial, instinctive reaction was to refuse, to have nothing more to do with the entire thing.

Yet his mind flashed back to that young man in Regensburg. The one condemned to a life without functioning limbs from one accident. It was for such people that he started this in the first place. How could he be a doctor and refuse the chance to do that work?

A small grin formed on his face. "I'd be honored, then, to accept your help, Tia."

"Thank you, Oskar," she replied. "It'll be for the best, I promise."

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

Over the course of the reception, the crew started to come back together. Standing in a group in one corner of the ballroom, Miri spoke up first. "So, it looks like this is it," she said.


"Well, I think Tia might be thinking of offering Henry a commission, and having him command the Liberator and the whole cruiser squadron," she said.

"And Oskar's staying too," Brigitte added, standing beside Piper and sharing a plate of grilled meat with her. "She's going to have him working on medical research."

"So… we're breaking up the crew?" Samina didn't sound happy at that. "I mean, there's also the Venture Star."

"There is," Miri agreed. "If the Captain goes, command goes to me or to Piper."

"You," Piper said quickly, drawing an amused giggle from Brigitte. "First Mate's bad enough."

"I admit, I'd likely be signin' up with th' Captain," Cera confessed. She sounded only slightly tipsy. "I mean, those cruisers are beauts. On th' big side, but th' fusion drives are somethin' else. Ye'll not be addin' a fusion drive t' th' Venture Star."

"Oh, I don't know about that." Samina shook her head. "Chief Khánh's crews on Trinidad Station could manage it, with some work."

"So what about you, Samina?" asked Pieter. "Ready to give up on being an independent spacer and play with those proton fusion cores?"

"They are really awesome, and the design is ingenious," Samina confessed. "And the ship's so shiny and neat… I don't know, though. I'm not sure I can salute and stuff."

"I figure we've all got time to make our decisions," Miri assured them. "We'll need more hands anyway for the Venture Star, given we're so shorthanded." Everyone's eyes lowered at that, since the matter couldn't be separated from the loss of Yanik. Sensing that, she added, "I think Yanik would want us to stay together."

"He'd consider it a spiritual duty," said Vidia. "Fulfilling our obligations ta one another."

"We should talk to the Captain." Piper looked about. She noticed him in his own corner. She just about raised her voice to call out to him when she stopped. Despite the distance, she could see he was deep in thought, deeper than their circumstances would imply was necessary. Something important must be going on. I should leave him to it.

"Whatever happens, even if we split up, we'll still remember each other at least," Pieter said. "We'll have our memories of all the times too, good and bad. A toast to that?"

"A toast to the good times and the past." Piper smiled. "And to more to come in the future, sure."

The others echoed agreement. It was left to Miri to say the words, at which time they shared what might be their last toast together, knowing that whatever the future held, they were still family.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

By the time the reception was over, Henry's thoughts brought him to action.

At his request, Tia hosted the meeting in the Palace of Government, in a secure conference room. He stood with her at the head of the table and waited for the invited people to assemble. One by one, they showed up—the Tokarevs, Dominguez, Dulaney, Mother Sarno and some of her subordinates—while Tia brought Linh with her. Lou showed up as well.

The last arrival was Kaiya. "Didn't take up CDF Intel's offer?" Henry asked.

"No," she replied. "Sinclair tried to convince me coming home might work out for the best, but I don't trust Rhodes or Barton to live up to any bargains."

"Alright." While she took a seat, Henry went up to the head of the table where Tia was seated. He stood behind her. "Thank you for attending everyone. I know you probably want to see to other business, but I've been thinking about some things, and this is important."

"We trust your judgment, Captain Henry," said Dulaney.

Lou placed his elbows on the table and folded his hands together. "By all means, Captain, you have our attention."

"Alright. Let's get straight to it. We're in trouble." Henry kept his voice firm while his mind went over the points he wanted to make again. "The League sent an entire cruiser squadron, with two escort squadrons, this far into Neutral Space to back their operations here. They gave Felipe Xiu bombs and weapons, which he used to nearly kill us all. I think we need to face the fact: they're not done with Sagittarius. They're coming, and with the Coalition the way it is, we need to be ready to deal with them ourselves."

Now every face in the room was grim. "You are right, Captain." Pavel Tokarev spoke up first. "The League will not rest until it conquers us all. We will have to fight back."

That prompted a remark from Dulaney. "I can speak for Trinidad Station that we don't want the League nosing around anymore."

"Nor does Lusitania," said Dominguez.

Sarno nodded. "They want our Order dead, so we can't afford to ignore them either."

"After Lusitania and now Hestia, they're clearly a threat to Neutral Space as well as the Coalition." Lou fixed his eyes on Henry. "The question, then, is what we do about it?"

Tia spoke up. "We have to work together. We can't fight the League alone, but if we pool resources, we can gather a big enough fleet to make them think twice about pulling anything again, or to help beat them back if they restart the war."

"Prime Minister, it's going to require a lot of effort," Lou said. "Diplomatic and political persuasion, certainly. A lot of worlds might see a united force like you're suggesting as a greater threat than the League."

"Usually, yes, but with memories fresh of this battle, we've got an opening to persuade people." Henry walked about the table. "We've all got contacts in the independent spacer community as well. We spread the word that there's a threat. They know what happened here. They'll respond. Meanwhile our worlds, every world represented here, start working our allies into expanding this agreement."

"That includes those Rigault cruisers." Linh smiled. "I'm looking forward to the chance to fix them up and make them run right."

"There's the rest of Rigault's planned fleet too." Lou didn't change his position, but a bemused glint showed in his eye. "Honestly, I'm too stretched to run them by myself, but if other worlds and forces help, we can have two squadrons each of destroyers and corvettes functional in the next few months, all based on the advanced technology Rigault was using."

"That'll be the core of a good fleet, but we'll need the other worlds." Henry looked toward Dominguez next. "Lusitania will spend some time fixing Beja, but we could use her and the Lusitanian fleet as well. Do you think Prime Minister Ascaro will consider it? It's a lot more than a single intervention."

"It is, but we've seen what the League can do." He nodded. "And with you involved, she'll be up for it."

"That's going to be the important part." Dulaney turned his eyes to Henry. "We need someone to command this united fleet. And while I'd love to say I'm the best choice, I think we can all agree you are."

"Da, yes." Piotr scratched absent-mindedly at his chin for a moment, but his attention was solely on the conversation. "Captain Henry has experience fighting our enemies, perhaps more even than we of Cyrilgrad do. He has military training and clearly knows how to command fleets. He must be in charge for us to succeed."

Somehow I figured I'd end up here, Henry thought. But I have a feeling that's what God had in mind… "If everyone's up for it, we can do that. I'll fly my flag from the Liberator. We should also consider sending a message to Sauria. They've gone isolationist out of disgust for the peace, but I can't imagine they don't recognize the threat either. They may not give us ships like they used to give the Coalition, but they might provide some money and supplies. Diplomatic cover too."

"I can make appeals in the Coalition for officers," Kaiya said. "I can't promise many, but maybe some of those angered at the peace will be willing to serve your fleet and train your people."

"You'll have our aid as well," pledged Sarno.

"Ultimately, we need to give this a political dimension." Henry nodded to Tia, Dulaney, and Lou. "We need to get you three in a room with Prime Minister Ascaro and any other planetary leaders we can talk into it. A common strategy can be developed between us, as well as figuring out how much people can help us out, and how big we can make this fleet. As for other ideas for it…"

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

When the discussion ended, everyone departed the conference room except for Henry and Tia. He looked at her with the respect he always felt, now honed by seeing her reaching a potential he'd never dared imagine before.

She returned the look and grinned. "Things have changed a lot for us these past few weeks, haven't they, Jim?"

"Yeah. Feels like we've both got new lives now."

"More like we regained something we lost. You have your self-respect and faith back; I have my family back."

"How are they?" he asked. "Bringing them up?"

"I will, if they agree, but Xom Ling's been our home since the planet was settled. I can't guarantee they'll come." Tia sighed. "I suppose if this were a story, it'd fit having a happy ending. But there's no such thing as a happy ending, just more work."

"That's the way of the world. No happy endings, just another day, until you're out of days and get to rest. But we've got a lot of days left, I think."

He approached her. Each had the same thought as their arms spread and they exchanged a hug for what seemed like the first time in fifteen years. "I've never thanked you enough, Jim, over all these years. You saved my life when you brought me onto your crew. You and the others, you made me a better person. Someone worthy to lead my people. So thank you for that."

"We all made our own lives better for each other," he said. "Thank you for your share in that." He ended the hug. His voice took on a wry tone as he said, "Well, we'd better get back to work."

"We'd better," she agreed.


Henry's arrival at Lusitania came in the company of their returning squadron of ships. The Liberator made an impression on its way to port in Lusitania's Arsenal Station, the main facility for its fleet units.

First came the meetings where he joined Dominguez and the Lusitanian admiralty, then meetings with Ascaro and her Cabinet with President Vargas. But they were not the only reasons he flew down to Gamavilla.

After all his business was done, he made his way with some urgency to the western edge of the city, checking the local time on his link to make sure he arrived on time. It was to his relief that he did, indeed, make it with a few minutes to spare.

He walked through the doors of the Faith Outreach Mission in something other than formal clothing, but not the spacer jacket and suit he might've worn previously. The uniform he was in had a dark blue color tone to it, with a cap bearing an emblem of an archer on horseback. There was no insignia on display, only his medals from his Coalition service and those given him by the Lusitanian government.

He was met at the door by the Mission's pastor. Jules Rothbard had his late brother's wheat-blond hair, combed just as meticulously, and a strong resemblance to Felix. A look of pleasant surprise came to his face. "Jim. I had no idea."

"I know. I wanted it to be a surprise." Henry's smile turned wistful. "I thought you should know…"

"I already do," Jules said. "About Felix. The CDF informed Mom and Dad a few weeks ago. They're not likely to get the survivor's benefits due to the politics of what happened."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Henry shook his head. Rhodes will have a lot to answer for. "I wanted you to hear it from me, Jules."

"Were you there, then? When he died?"

"Yes." Henry nodded. "Felix took my place. He died so I'd live, so that we'd all escape the League and what they were doing on Hestia."

"Ah." Pain showed on Jules' face, tinged with acceptance. "Well, I know he died for a good reason, then. And he was probably smiling, knowing he saved your life."


Jules checked the time. Already several of the pews had occupants. "I know I should be reassured by how he died. 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' But it still hurts. I miss him." Tears formed in his eyes.

"So do I. Charlie too." Henry gave him a reassuring grin. "But I know they're waiting for us, Jules. They're waiting for us to join them in a better place."

A soft smile came to Jules' face. "I hoped I'd hear you speak like that again." He made a tentative gesture with his open hand, beckoning Henry to enter. "My service is going to start in a couple minutes."

"I know." Henry reached under his left arm and pulled out the object he'd held there. The black surface of synthetic leather was fringed with bright red pages with a gold ribbon bonded to the spine as a bookmark. The front cover of the book read, simply "HOLY BIBLE," with the bottom announcing it was a King James edition.

Nothing more had to be said. Jules gladly escorted Henry to the front pew before rising to the pulpit.

Breach of Trust: Breach of Faith Book Four

The Brunweld System was home to mining colonies only, but for the moment, it was playing host to an unexpected sight. Out by the system's turquoise-tinted gas giant, a fleet of ships now numbering in the hundreds maintained a series of formations in relation to each other.

At the center of this fleet was the Liberator, the flagship of the Independent Systems Fleet. She led her sister ships in a line echelon formation, surrounded by a dozen corvettes and six destroyers of matching design philosophy. Each had muonic cannon turrets and the destroyers anti-ship missile cells.

At spaces around these vessels, the ships of two dozen inhabited solar systems kept mixed formations of their own. Ships were not grouped by nationality but by capability, their coherence continually honed by steady drills and practice maneuvers.

On the bridge of the Liberator, Admiral James Henry watched quietly as sixteen frigates from half that many worlds went through an attack run maneuver. There was room for improvement, but he couldn't hold back his pride at seeing how well they worked together.

Cera had her seat nearby, watching the helm as always. She was dressed smartly in the same dark blue uniform as his. Her rank insignia of two silver sunbursts marked her as a Lieutenant Commander in the Independent Systems Fleet, just as his circle of five gold stars marked his nominal rank of Admiral, the only one in the organization. Admiral. The CDF doesn't even do those. He chuckled, but only slightly.

"Frigate Group Bravo just finished their run," Cera said. "Looks like they're learnin'." Her grin was prideful. "But they've got New Connaught ships leadin' their way, so of course they are."

Henry chuckled. Before he could speak, the Hestian woman at the sensors station spoke up. "Wormhole forming."

"What've we got?"

After a moment, the young officer relaxed. "Auber-Eisenburg Mark V. IFF code reads her as Venture Star."

"Put her on." Henry returned to his new seat to the side of the CIC, placing him close to Comms and Sensors. A series of holo-displays and the tactical holotank allowed him to exercise fleet command while the Liberator's maneuvers were overseen by her new CO, Captain Trang. He directed his attention to the flat screen display nearer to the wall. Miri's face appeared. "How did it go?" he asked.

"As you'd expect," Miri said. "The Matrinid aren't interested in granting military aid, but they're treating our existing technology as an established fact. We've got an agreement for replacement parts if needed."

"And the Saurians?"

"Isolationist as ever, but last I heard, the supplies were still running. They recognize us as possible allies against the League, so we could expect that at the very least."

Henry sighed. "I'm guessing you ended up having to skirt around Coalition space?"

"Yeah, CBI's onto us as owners of the Venture Star. You should see GNN. Rhodes still protests your fleet's existence almost any time the journalists bring it up. 'A threat to galactic peace,' she calls it, and she acts like you're still in the CDF. The woman's truly blind."

"I figured. All we can do is wait for some sense of sanity to return to the Coalition." Henry grinned. "How are the others?"

"They're doing well. The replacement crew is still adjusting. Piper still wants out of being First Mate, but she's getting used to command. How about on your end?"

"New Cornwall finally signed up. We've got a squadron of their frigates with us now, and we're supposed to get two destroyers." Henry considered his list of existing ships. Most of the fleet was still made up of independent spacers with armed civilian ships, but every week brought more governments signing up for the training. Contingents were rotating in and out, with the training spreading accordingly as lessons were passed on to the rest of their services. "At this rate, we're going to have a proper fleet in a month or two."

"Good. We may need it."

Henry's eyes tightened. "Oh?"

"My contacts in CIS have been giving me information," she said. "I'll send you the reports, but to sum it up, they say there's some unusual activity out at Freedom Station. From what I'm told, certain acquaintances of ours are setting up to investigate."

"Could be nothing. Could be something. Thanks for passing that on. Anything else?"

"No. We'll let you know if we hear anything else."

"Good. Take care of yourselves out there, Miri."

"Be careful, Captain Henry."

"I'll try." He let her have a parting grin. "Godspeed."

"Godspeed." Her image disappeared.

Henry stood back up and walked over to the plotting holo-tank. "Captain Lou?"

Mei-Ling Lou looked up at him with her father Frank's eyes. She looked good in her new uniform and utterly at home as his chief of staff. "Yes, Admiral?"

"Inform the fleet, starting in four hours, we're going to practice joint wormhole use."

Understanding showed on her face. It would allow the fleet to make multiple jumps quickly, as not every ship would be running their Lawrence drive for each jump. "I'll schedule the exercise."

"Good. We're going to run two a day until further notice."

"Aye, Admiral."

"And schedule another fleet-wide combat maneuver exercise," he added. "We're going to need the practice."

"It'll be done, sir."

"Aye, an' I'll make sure t' give them some right tricky maneuvers t' pull tae," Cera added from the helm. Behind her, Trang nodded with approval.

"I wouldn't expect anything less, Commander McGinty," Henry said. I do miss just calling her Cera, but that won't do now. After all of these years, I'm back in the service after all.

That thought led him to bring up the large-scale starmap on the CIC's stern-facing display. The stars played over his dark skin despite the decent lighting of the CIC while his eyes examined them. He wondered where the trouble would begin, and how it would begin, and just how much the League would be behind it.

No matter. It's been a long and curvy road, but I'm back in the fight, he thought. And whether it happens next week or next year, we're going to finish it. Not just the CDF and the Coalition, but all of us.

He said nothing more, allowing the crew and the ships under his command to continue the drilling that would make them ready for the battle he knew was coming.

And he had trust, he had faith, that they would win.

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

Book 7 - Finish the Fight

Breach of Faith

(With Gary T. Stevens)

Book 1 - Breach of Peace

Book 2 - Breach of Faith

Book 3 - Breach of Duty

Book 4 - Breach of Trust

Get Two free & Exclusive David Gibbs Books

FREE BOOK: Read the story of Levi Cohen and his heroic fight at the first battle of Canaan in Echoes of War: Stand Firm.

FREE BOOK: Join Captain James Henry as he tries to survive in the independent worlds after being cashiered out of the Coalition Defense Force. Can a broken man rebuild his life? Find out in A Simple Mission.

Both available FREE, only at


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.

The series has come together more than I’d dreamed possible - and it’s been an honor to work along side Gary and see how he’s grown as an author. Watch his work - it will be impressive in the days and years to come!

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 -

With the series concluded, I would like to once again give my thanks to Daniel Gibbs for giving me the opportunity to craft these stories in his Echoes of War setting. I hope that I've done him credit as much as I hope I've entertained and inspired the readers, and I plead forgiveness for the fact that I am a very wordy kind of writer. I'd like to think that I've kept the faith, so to speak, with these stories about faith - not just religious faith, but faith in ourselves and in others that we can do the right thing if we but strive to.

My thanks also to Beth Lynne, the editor who catches my continuing disrespect for the poor, misunderstood comma, and G. Michaelis, who gave the initial draft a read and suggested refinements that made the book stronger.

Once more my thanks to friends for their support in the writing of this book and the series as a whole, though it meant delays to other projects. Further thanks to my friend Ben, who provided some feedback on how I should present Tia's intentions as the leader of her people. I can't say I adopted everything suggested 100%, but his influence is there.

My thanks to my brother, who put up with me whenever something about this project caused me to rant about something.

Finally, thanks to Uncle Tim, for urging me over all these years to write books and get them published. This will not be the last one, I assure you, Uncle.

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