The Orion Spur

Part 1: Family Business

Written by: Harpy & HkdonXetG ©2015



Category : Original Fiction; Sci-Fi, ALT (f/f); mature audience

Copyright Disclaimers :

This is an original work of fiction. Copies of this story may be made for personal use only, but must include disclaimers. Original characters and plot lines are copyrighted to the authors and may be used with permission.

Content Disclaimer : This story is rated Mature – for readers 18 or older

Sexual Content : This is a story that contains scenes of sexual intimacy between two females and references to forced sex.

Violence Content : This is a story that contains some violence, though not overly explicit.

Feedback Request : Your feedback is the manna that sustains us, so please feed the bards at and

Acknowledgements : We would like to thank our wonderful beta readers, Bindi and Michele, for their time, comments, and support of this project.

Note : The Orion Spur series is written using British English spelling, however, there are words that are unique to the story.


In The Orion Spur, Part I : Family Business , Kikola ap Karthen is a young woman of privilege whose future has been planned for her from the day she was born by The Kalenth Hegemony, a society with strict social boundaries.

Graduating from the Hegemony's Elit Military Academy, Kikola is set to fulfil her destiny with a single-mindedness of purpose. That is, until she meets Tehvay, a slave, and suddenly everything she has been taught is turned upside down.

The two women, from opposite ends of The Hegemony's strict social caste system, find common ground that blossoms into friendship and eventually into so much more. But their feelings for each other will force Kikola to risk everything – her position, her family, her destiny – for a chance at happiness and a life of her own choosing with the woman she loves.



By the latter half of the twenty-third century, humankind had brought itself back from the brink of self-annihilation one last time, but the Earth was made almost uninhabitable. A scientific breakthrough in fusion propulsion, using super heavy elements, had made interstellar travel possible, and that was the catalyst for a mass exodus. Humankind spread out into the local area of the galaxy, known as the Orion Spur, in an uncoordinated fashion. Groups settled on planets and moons and created their own empires.

Five hundred years after the exodus from Earth, on the planet Kalenth, five powerful families, D'Angel, Karthen, Maldan, Taliss and Willenth, forged an alliance. They called their alliance The Kalenth Hegemony . A ruling council with one member from each family was formed. It was the perfect democracy: one family, one vote.

Their philosophy was simple, they wanted to create a perfect society and they would encourage people to adopt their principles through non-violent means and education.

They called the date Year 1.

It took fifty-seven years before the whole of the Kalenth system had been persuaded. Another twenty-five years before they took control of the nearest system.

By then, the ruling families had expanded to seven. They were getting greedier. They were becoming restless. They no longer wanted to encourage people to follow their principles; they demanded it. Persuasion was replaced by intimidation. Education was replaced by indoctrination, and a caste system evolved to maintain social and political order.

There were four castes:

Elit – The ruling families. Those who held a seat on the governing council, the planetary governors, the top military leaders, artists and musicians; the cream of society.

Fethusal – The professionals. Doctors, intellectuals, civil servants, the military officers. To the Elit they were just about acceptable company, to everyone else they were the wannabe Elit.

Quernal – The business owners and skilled workers. Rich, affluent and powerful to a degree, they were to the Fethusal as the Fethusal were to the Elit. To the Elit the Quernal were mentioned in polite conversation only as a last resort and only with the right amount of disdain.

Labror – The unskilled. Those who did everything that made society run, from factory workers to prostitutes. To the Elit the Labror were considered unmentionable. Everyone of Quernal and below were referred to as Quernal, the great unwashed, the common people.

Then after a failed uprising in Year 453, a new caste was formed. Slaves .

For the Elit it gave them a powerful weapon in maintaining order. Everyone from Elit to the more affluent Quernal could afford to own a slave. And with someone to oppress, the lower castes were less likely to rebel when they were oppressed. The Labror were trapped. Oppressed from above, they could count their blessings that at least they were not slaves, so kept their heads down and got on with things as best they could.

By Year 1602 there were over twenty-five thousand inhabited systems in The Hegemony and ninety-one families in the Elit. But still the old tenet held for the ruling council: one family, one vote.



The Civic was the nerve centre of The Kalenth Hegemony. Situated two hundred and thirty kilometres from Ralkatar, the capital city of Kalenth, it occupied twenty-five square kilometres – a city in itself.

Its many sectors controlled all aspects of The Hegemony from commerce and finance, to art and agriculture. Each planet had a governor who oversaw local policies, but Hegemony wide policies were decided in the Civic by the governing body, The Council.

All Elit families were considered equal, thus all sectors of the Civic were created equal. All buildings were of a uniform size and height. No building was higher than fifteen metres. Only at its centre was the uniformity of the Civic broken.

At the very heart was a ceremonial square surrounded by statues, fountains and gardens. To the west of the square was the Elit Military Academy where the Elit chosen for the Hegemony's military were trained. To the north was the Council Chambers where the decisions that governed the Hegemony were debated and voted on by The Council. To the east was a shuttle port for the Elit that worked in The Civic. To the south were the Council members offices clustered around the grandest and tallest structure in The Civic: The Great Hall.

The Great Hall was one hundred metres wide, three hundred metres long and thirty metres tall. The interior colour scheme was predominantly dark grey. The one point seven metre tall woman wearing the dark grey uniform easily blended into the background. She stood motionless staring at one of the many portraits of The Hegemony's greats that adorned the walls.

A door opened and closed with barely a sound, but such were the acoustics that it was clearly heard by Kikola. She turned from the painting and looked at the approaching man. He walked slowly towards her, his fine grey hair catching the light as he passed through a sunbeam shining through the skylights. Kikola recognised the man as one of the private secretaries for the head of Military Operations.

He stopped in front of her and looked over her shoulder at the portrait.

"Your great-grandfather, Petril ap Karthen, would be proud of you," he said.

"Why?" asked Kikola. Even in that one, clipped word her accent shone through. Kikola was a member the Elit; the families that ruled The Hegemony. And not just any family, Kikola was a member of the Karthen family, one of the original five founding families. She could trace her lineage back over fifteen hundred years.

The civil servant let the echo of her question die away before replying, trying to keep the astonishment out of his voice. "You graduated from the Academy as an Aloyd, First-Class: the first in over a century. Not even your great-grandfather managed that and he went on to do great things. He became a Rivelor!"

"I know my history," she informed him curtly. Kikola sensed the man was trying to impress her with his knowledge of her family, but she had no time for sycophants. "I am doing my duty for The Hegemony. I see no reason for anyone to feel pride merely because someone is doing their duty."

"What I mean is, it isn't just doing your duty, but to excel at doing your duty, to succeed like your great-grandfather—"

"My great-grandfather didn't succeed." Her icy voice cut him off.

"He led the last great expansion of The Hegemony!" the man exclaimed. "He commanded the conquering of the Lamantian Republic."

"And died in battle doing so. I call that failure. A stain on my family's history."

"Then why were you looking at his portrait?"

Kikola glanced over her shoulder at the artwork. "I didn't realise it was him. I was studying the technique. It was painted by Marlo Samon ap D'Angel, the greatest portrait painter The Hegemony has ever known. Look at the detailing on the medals. If you examine it closely it looks like a single brush stroke that changes colour, not different brush strokes for each colour. Genius." She paused for a moment. "Perhaps that is something of which to be proud?"

"I didn't know they taught art appreciation at The Elit Military Academy."

She fixed a steely gaze on him. "Of course they do. They teach us art, music, history, economics, politics, biology, physics, chemistry – everything we need to fulfil our duty. We are not like the uneducated masses we rule over!"

"No, of course not. I apologise. I didn't mean to offend you." He cleared his throat. "They are ready for you."

"Thank you. I know the way, you don't need to escort me."

Kikola left the Great Hall by the door the old man had used. It was a short walk down the corridor to the office of the Council Member for Military Operations, Ambra Kartrine ap Lentol.

There were seven people in the room. Kikola recognised six as members from the ruling council, including her uncle Toman. The seventh was man dressed in the light grey uniform of a fleet captain.

The Council Member for Military Operations was a short woman with light blonde hair; she smiled pleasantly with an air of familiarity at Kikola. The Lentol and Karthen families had close ties and Ambra ap Lentol had been a regular visitor to the household for birthday and holiday celebrations when Kikola was younger. They had last seen each other socially ten years ago at Kikola's seventeenth birthday, though there had been several official occasions where they'd met. Ambra held out a small, open box that held a set of rank bars – a reverse 'C' with three over bars. "Kikola Mariantha Jacand ap Karthen, it gives me great pleasure to officially confer upon you the rank of Aloyd, First-Class."

Kikola took the insignia with the briefest nod of thanks and pinned them to the high collar of her uniform.

"Is there anything you wish to say?" Toman asked.

Kikola glanced around the room at the expectant faces. "I pledge to do my duty for The Hegemony." The expectant faces did not change. Do they want more? Kikola thought. "To the best of my ability," she added.

An awkward silence descended.

"Uh… That… is all we can ask," Toman rushed to fill the gap. "Allow me to introduce you to Captain Uriel Wurth."

The uniformed man snapped to attention and gave his commanding officer a crisp salute: his left arm bent from the elbow, hand formed into a fist and held on the left side of the chest. "Aloyd."

Kikola returned the salute. "At ease, Captain."

"Wurth will be captain of your personal cruiser."

Kikola studied the captain. He stood a head taller than her and appeared to be in his late thirties. His blue eyes were deep set beneath his brow and resolutely focussed at a point just to her left. A subordinate officer would never make direct eye contact with an aloyd, at least not until a certain rapport had been formed. Wurth displayed no emotion, no curiosity to look at her, not even a bead of sweat dared to roll from his brow.

"You're young to be a captain. You must have an exemplary record. I will be reviewing it to see that you meet my requirements."

"Yes, Aloyd. I expect nothing less."

"Do not presume what I will or will not do."

"Yes, Aloyd. My sincerest apologies."

Wurth did not flinch at the reprimand. He stoically maintained his stance and his gaze.

"Wait outside for me."

Wurth snapped another salute, turned on his heel and marched out of the room.

"Is he any good?" Kikola asked her uncle.

"We wouldn't assign anyone unworthy to you."

She nodded once. "What are my orders?"

Ambra handed Kikola a data chip. "Everything you need to know is on here," she said. "In short, you are to report to Station 102. Commodore Heln is there with the heavy cruiser Sword and strike ship Crusade . Take the ships to Gatlor and suppress the uprising."

Kikola frowned. "What uprising?"

"We have managed to keep a lid on it so far, but news will soon leak out. It's small scale at the moment, a handful of agitators we believe, spreading malicious literature and we want this sedition stopped before it escalates."

"Consider it stopped." Kikola tucked the data chip into her pocket. "I will report when I have completed my mission." There was no arrogance in that statement; it was stated with a calm assurance as if she had said 'the night follows sunset'. With military precision, the newly commissioned Aloyd, First-Class came to attention, gave a salute, and marched out of the office.



The word was not a cry of pain, though pain had been the prompting for its utterance. Tehvay had carefully selected it and spoken it, and accompanied it with a glare.

The doctor ignored the protestation from her and removed the needle.

Tehvay rubbed at the puncture hole on her arm only for the doctor to swat her hand away as if she were a child.

"Do not rub it, idiot," he muttered.

Tehvay lowered her hand and continued to glower at the medic. He looked like he didn't want to be in this drab sickbay any more than she did. All the colours appeared faded: the walls, the cupboards – the beds. Bright sunlight was visible outside the small windows positioned high on the walls, but none of it made it inside. The overhead lights illuminated the room well enough, but made everything a sickly, pale green colour.

The door opened and a woman in her mid-sixties with long black hair entered. She wore a formal dark green jacket and knee length skirt. Tehvay recognised her as Mariantha ap Karthen, the judge who inexplicably had not sentenced her to death, but sentenced her to something much worse. "Stand up! Show some respect when I enter!"

Tehvay reluctantly climbed to her feet.

"That's better," Judge Karthen said. She placed a package on the table next to where Tehvay was standing. "You need to lose your attitude fast. My daughter will not tolerate such disrespect."

"Then maybe you should've spent money on a decent—"

"Silence!" The woman barked at the tall, blonde haired young woman. "I am giving you a second chance. Do you not understand that? I spoke to a few of your previous owners before presiding over your trial. Before you escaped and were corrupted by your freedom, you were an obedient and loyal slave. It's in your genetic code to obey and serve. In time you'll come to understand that and return to your calling, and be grateful of this chance I am giving you."

"Maybe I don't want it now that I've tasted freedom. Maybe I'd rather die!"

The older woman shook her head slowly. "Maybe it will come to that, but I believe in you. I believe you can be reformed. If you think your death is what it takes to prove me wrong then say the word and I will have Doctor Mantell put you down right now."

"Just say the word," Mantell beamed a menacing smile at Tehvay.

As much as she wanted anything other than a return to slavery, even death, when that moment came she could not bring herself to take that step. She gave a brief shake of her head and convinced herself it was because she did not want to give the sneering doctor the satisfaction.

"Good," said the judge with a degree of satisfaction in winning the battle of wills. "Put those on." She pointed at the package on the table. "I cannot present you to my daughter wearing those prison rags." She turned to Mantell. "Thank you so much for coming to give it a medical."

"It's my job to keep you and your family healthy." He gave Tehvay a look of disgust. "And your slaves."

"Indeed, and I appreciate this facility is not up to your usual standards."

"It's more than good enough for a slave."

"The slave, is it clean?"

Mantell nodded. "Yes. Nothing communicable. I have just given it a booster shot for Rantili Fever; there's some going around at the moment."

The use of the impersonal pronoun had never bothered Tehvay previously. She had been a slave all her life and to be referred to as 'it' was normal. But four years of freedom had taught her that she was a person not a commodity, and the word grated on her.

"Excellent!" She turned back to Tehvay who was still looking at the package. "Go on. I haven't got all day."

Tehvay opened the package to reveal two pale blue slave outfits: simple slip on shoes, a sleeveless undershirt, a long sleeve outer shirt, and leggings. There were two, because even a slave needed a change of clothes. Each item of clothing had a black rectangle with white lettering stating 'BK2561891', her slave ident. The new clothes would be snug fitting on her, but then all slave uniforms were figure hugging. Tight clothing prevented them secreting any weapons about their person.

She cast her eyes around the surgery and saw a screen, but knew what the answer would be if she asked for privacy to change. Besides, changing clothes in front of two people, one of whom was a doctor, was not the most degrading thing she had been forced to do as a slave.

Tehvay slipped out of her red and orange prison uniform and got dressed as quickly as possible.

The judge gave Tehvay a brief nod and turned on her heel. Tehvay took that as a signal the judge was leaving and followed the woman to the prison courtyard where a vehicle was waiting. Tehvay was directed into the cramped, windowless rear compartment where slaves were expected to travel. She felt the vehicle move off and heard the soft rumble of the silicone tyres on the ground. The sound was relaxing and she did what any good slave would do when out of sight of their owners: she slept. Sleep was a precious commodity to a slave; it was a place where they could be free, and with demanding owners it was to be taken whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Tehvay automatically woke up when the door was opened. She stepped out and shielded her eyes from the setting sun. She had never been here before, but she deduced from the strong military presence that she was at the Kalenth Fleet Spaceport.

Another vehicle pulled up and a young woman stepped out. She was slightly shorter than average height and her black hair framed a face that looked as severe and deadly as one of the ships docked in the port. She wore the dark grey, woven metal, armoured uniform of an Elit military officer as if it were a second skin. There was a slight familial resemblance to the judge and Tehvay surmised that this must be the daughter, her new owner.

My last owner, Tehvay thought wishfully.

The judge's face broke into a smile, but the new arrival's face remained impassive.

"Kikola, dear, I wanted to see you before you go." She reached out as if she was going to embrace the younger woman, but then thought better of it.

Great, thought Tehvay. Even her mother is afraid to touch her. I should get myself killed in no time.

"That wasn't necessary," replied the younger Karthen.

"Nonsense. This is a momentous day for you, and for our family." The judge beamed with pride. "Your first command. I am so proud of you, as your father would have been." There was a moment of silence as the judge waited for her daughter to say something.

The uniformed woman remained as stiff as her uniform collar when she finally spoke. "Was there anything else?"

If the older woman was disappointed, she didn't show it. "I also wanted to give you a present. As an Aloyd, First-Class, you'll require at least one personal slave to attend you. Its name is Tehvay."

Tehvay took one step forward, keeping her eyes lowered as she was being inspected.

"It'll suffice for now. Thank you, Mother."


Kikola's personal cruiser, which she had named Conqueror , carried a crew of ten, including Captain Wurth. She had a private deck with limited access. At the fore of the deck was her ready room, which had direct access to the bridge. At the stern was an emergency life pod and private airlock. Besides her ready room, the private deck contained a small exercise room, a bedroom, a bathroom, a laundry, and a dining room that could double as a function room for entertaining guests, and a small cell for a personal slave.

Kikola had not thought about owning a slave. Members of the Karthen Family generally received a personal slave on their eighteenth birthday, however since Kikola was at the Academy, where slaves for the trainees were not allowed, she never received one. Growing up she always thought that slaves were meant for families, and since she had no intention of starting a family, Kikola had not considered owning any.

The specimen her mother had given her had the toned body of a lifelong slave and stood a little taller than her. Its blonde hair was short cropped and a little unkempt and its blue eyes seemed to shine with a defiance that she had never seen in a slave before.

Once aboard, Kikola sent the slave to the private deck while she stayed on the bridge to supervise the launch. As soon as the ship achieved altitude, Aloyd Karthen handed over command to Captain Wurth and left the bridge. The journey to Station 102 would take about eight hours, so Kikola wanted to retire to her private quarters to review the mission on the data chip and get some sleep before arriving.

Kikola found her new slave in the function room sitting on a chair in the corner. Kikola was mildly annoyed that the slave did not rise when she entered the room. "I guess I should lay down the ground rules. I do not know what your previous owners expected, but this is how it will be with me. When you're not doing anything you'll remain in your cell. You do what I tell you to do. That is all. Do you understand?"


"You'll address me as Aloyd Karthen."

Tehvay did not respond.

Was this slave defective – hard of hearing? Kikola thought. "I said you'll address me as Aloyd Karthen," she repeated in a louder tone.

"Sure," Tehvay said.

Kikola stared in disbelief. She could not understand why it would not obey her. "I will not tolerate such insolence."

Tehvay chuckled. "Oh, I can be a lot more insolent than that. Do—"

Kikola felt a rumbling of anger beginning to well up. She had to suppress it. Losing her temper was trained out of her at the Academy, or so Kikola had thought. "Go to your cell now."

"Or… you could throw me out of an airlock."

Kikola would not allow herself to be goaded. "What's wrong with you? Why would you want me to throw you out of an airlock?"

"I don't want to be here. Is that so hard to understand? Aloyd Karthen !"

Kikola looked perplexed. "You're a slave. Where else would you want to be?"

Tehvay laughed. "Are you serious?"

"The purpose of the slave caste is to serve. To serve a member of the Elit is a great honour. Why would you want anything else? You're bred to obey. It's in your genes."

It finally got up from the chair and looked at Kikola directly – not casting its gaze to the floor as an obedient slave would, which confounded Kikola.

"You're deluded," Tehvay said. "I was born a slave, yes. It was beaten into me as a child that my life was to serve and obey. That having hopes and desires was pointless. That my life could be snuffed out on the whim of my owner. That I was worthless. That I should be proud of my position on the bottom rung of society.

"And I accepted it because I knew nothing else.

"When my previous owner was killed and someone freed me, I didn't know what to do. I believed I should die with my owner. The thought of life without someone telling me what to do and when to do it was terrifying.

"It took two years to learn how to be free. Two years of trying to serve the people who freed me, and two years of being scared whenever they told me I could do what I wanted.

"But I did learn.

"I learnt that I was the master of my destiny. If I chose to lie in, I could and no one had the right to tell me to get up. If I wanted to walk down the street and look the other pedestrians in the eye, I could. Most importantly I learnt that I'm a person. A living breathing person. A person with the right to live. And a right to die rather than serve.

"Do you understand, ' Aloyd Karthen '?"

Kikola was dumbstruck. No one, let alone a slave, had ever spoken to her like that before. And to hear a slave think of itself as a person was an affront to everything she had been taught and believed. All the household slaves she had known were submissive, obedient creatures.

"No, I don't understand. You're a slave. You obey. That's all. You do not wish for anything. You do not desire anything. You do not ask for anything. Your purpose is to serve and obey me. Nothing else."

"And if I refuse to obey?"

"Refuse? Why would you refuse to obey?"

"Didn't you hear anything I just said? I'm a person. I cannot be made to serve against my will."

"You have no will."

"And you've no authority over me. What you going to do about it?"

Kikola had to think. Nothing in her training had prepared her to deal with this situation, because it was simply unthinkable. "I don't know," she admitted.

"Don't you normally beat a slave that doesn't obey you?" Tehvay asked defiantly.

"You're talking nonsense. A slave cannot disobey."

"So you've never beaten a slave?"

"No. I have had no cause to beat one."

Tehvay's looked confused. "What? Not even for fun?"


"Yes… you…"

"Did your previous owners beat you 'for fun'?"

"Some of them did," Tehvay recalled.

Kikola found herself being drawn into Tehvay's story. She wanted to hear more, so Kikola took a seat in a nearby chair and gestured for Tehvay to sit. Kikola didn't command the slave to sit, and as a consequence, it took a seat again without any fuss.

"How many have you had?" Kikola asked.

"Before you, six," Tehvay replied.

"And they beat you? Then you have never been owned by a member of the Elit," Kikola concluded.

"No. Just your average well to do Quernal, and one Fethusal."

Kikola frowned. "What sort of fun involved beating you?"

"Some of them liked it rough."

"Liked what?"


"Sex? Why would they want to breed with a slave?"

"Breed!" the slave laughed. "I would've had a hard time getting pregnant at eight."

"Eight? Eight years old?"

"Yes. What other 'eight' is there?"

"Your owner had sex with you when you were eight?" Kikola could not fathom it.

"Yes," Tehvay replied with no emotion.


"He liked them young."

Kikola was repelled by such a vile thought. Owning slaves to serve you and look after your household is one thing, she thought, but to use slaves in the manner in which it was describing is beyond comprehension. "But you were too young to get pregnant."

"That wasn't his intention."

"He had sex with you, but not to get you pregnant, but because you were young?"

"Yes, these things happen you know. Are you telling me you've never had sex for fun?"

"No." replied Kikola. Silence filled the awkward space between them; Kikola felt a compulsion to ask. "Have you?"

"Well…" Tehvay sighed heavily. "Now that you mention it, it was never fun me. But other people do. When do you do it then if not for fun?"

This sort of intimate talk was disturbing to Kikola. "Enough of this nonsense! Go to your cell!"

After dismissing the slave, Kikola left the function room and crossed the corridor to her bedroom. The bedroom was not large, but she felt it took up too much space on the ship than was necessary. The bed was large though; she reckoned that if she were three times her size there would still be room left over. After settling down she decided that she would have to get a new mattress and pillows; these were far too soft for her liking. Her mind drifted to Tehvay. It had mentioned something about being free. Kikola wondered if her mother knew its background. She would question it further tomorrow; find out more about it.


After the conversation with her owner Tehvay felt deflated. She had initially tried to provoke a reaction from the aloyd, but the military officer seemed more unsettled, rather than angry, by what Tehvay had said. So unsettled that Tehvay felt no desire to push it any further.

Any resistance in her had dissipated and she dragged a younger, more obedient version of herself to the surface and obeyed the command to go to her cell.

Tehvay's cell was a single, small room, yet it contained a three-tiered bunk against one wall, a toilet and a washbasin. She climbed into the lower bunk, the mattress was thin and hard, the pillow was small and hard and it had a thin, single sheet. It was clean, and the temperature was just right, so it was not the worst place she had been kept by a long way. She lay awake pondering her new owner. There was something about her that she had never seen in her previous owners. It seemed that Aloyd Karthen believed that slaves were somehow sub-human, almost incapable of sentient thought, yet she had treated Tehvay with more humanity than her other owners. The others knew she was human and had taken delight in making her feel sub-human. Maybe it wasn't going to be so bad after all.

When Tehvay awoke, the chronometer embedded in the wall above the door to her cell read 06:58. She got up, quickly saw to her morning ablutions, and went in search of her new master.

The aloyd was in her bedroom, just slipping into her uniform when Tehvay found her. Her owner glanced at her once and resumed her task of fastening her jacket.

"Shouldn't that be my job?" asked Tehvay.

"I am quite capable of dressing myself," replied the aloyd.

"Or should I at least have got it ready for you?"

"No need. I have decided to return you to my mother. It seems wrong to sell you myself."

The reality of the situation hit Tehvay hard. All of a sudden she did not want to die. She had experienced freedom once, and during the night she concluded that while she lived, there was hope that she could be free again. Now, that hope had been shot down. Tehvay could feel her heart pounding hard in her chest.

The aloyd became aware of Tehvay's heavy breathing.

"What's wrong with you? Are you ill?"

"I… I… You do know what'll happen to me if you return me to your mother?"

"She might be able to get a refund, or sell you on to someone else."

"Your mother didn't buy me. If I go back, I'll be executed."


"I told you last night I had been freed, well that made me a fugitive."

"Your release was not legal?"

"No, definitely not legal."

"Hmm, we will talk more about that later." Aloyd Karthen took a moment to fasten her sidearm to her hip and returned her attention to the slave. "You shouldn't fear death, but you should always try and put it off for as long as possible. If you only have two choices: serve me, or death, then choose to serve me."

"Not much of a choice."

"I will not beat you. I will not… do those things that your other owners may have done. But I will expect obedience."

Tehvay pondered the offer. "Two out of three ain't bad, I guess."

"Good." The aloyd glanced at the chronometer embedded into the wrist of her jacket. "Now that's settled, I have a meeting which I must attend." Aloyd Karthen gave herself one glance in the mirror and smoothed out an invisible crease in her sleeve. She turned once more to the slave. "While I am gone, you may tidy up… make the bed… that sort of thing. I am sure you know what to do."

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen."

"We will talk more about your duties later," said Aloyd Karthen before finally making her departure.

Tehvay set about her tasks trying not to think of what she was doing. As she was tidying up the bed she noticed a stain on the sheets and decided to change them. When she closed the door on the washer, Tehvay realised that she had just been given a choice to be a slave and had accepted it.

Is this my genetics kicking in? she thought. Were Aloyd Karthen and her mother right, and I've no option but to serve?

She sat down on the floor and wept.



Shibato was a system in The Kalenth Hegemony near the border with the Graelands, as independent systems on the edge of The Orion Spur were known. The border was a place where the boundaries between legal and illegal were easily blurred, where a pile of credits would see most officials look the other way.

One such pile of credits was currently distracting the port customs officer so much that he completely failed to remember that the cargo he hadn't inspected was a contraband shipment of illegal slaves.

Slavery was legal in The Hegemony, but importing slaves from the Graelands was illegal. Legal slaves were costly to purchase, so any way to cut costs on a planet that was far from the wealthiest place in The Hegemony was more than welcome. Border systems like Shibato struggled to compete with the richer core systems without illegal slaves.

The officer placed the official tag on the electronic form before him, waited for the beep to signal that a copy had been logged in the database, and handed the now authorised form back to the captain. The ship captain, a woman in her early thirties, tall and thin, with shoulder-length, bootblack hair, picked up the form, rolled it up, and slipped it into her jacket. She smiled at the customs officer, her light blue eyes sparkled with a flirtatious invitation, and he smiled back. As she turned and walked away, she made sure he was mesmerised by the movement of her buttocks in her tight black leather trousers.

Only after she was out of sight would he notice that she had taken back a third of the credits.

Men are so easy , the woman observed as she pocketed the credits and returned to her ship. She knew he would not complain to the authorities. She also knew he would not be so accommodating the next time. I will just have to buy myself some tighter trousers .

The spaceport was the smallest of the four on the planet and located in a rocky desert. It saw just enough traffic to make it worthwhile for the authorities to keep it open, which for someone like Captain Hila Llyte was a good thing. Smaller ports tended to have officials willing to overlook certain things.

It wasn't a long walk back to the bay where her freighter, the Glyndwr , was docked, but the dry, hot air tickled the back of her throat and she desperately needed a drink. It looked like her parched throat would have to wait, because as she approached her ship, she saw a truck and six burly, armed men waiting for her.

One of the men started walking towards her in what he probably thought was a menacing manner. "Do ya have Mister Zerbilla's shipment?"

Hila had had many dealings with Zerbilla, but didn't recognise the man approaching her. In this business, however, employee turnover was high, and she had no interest in becoming acquainted.

He came to a halt three metres away from her. He was typical hired muscle: tall, broad shouldered, and with a face only a mother could love.

Hila squared her shoulders and stood with her arms crossed. "The reprobate couldn't make it himself, eh?"


Hila smiled inwardly. The dimwit doesn't know what a reprobate is.

"Never mind. Do you have my credits?" she enquired.

A small, secured pouch was tossed at her feet. Hila glanced at the pouch, looked up at the goon and smiled.

"Tell Zerbilla I am not an idiot." She lowered her arms and kicked the pouch back. "Payment in full, or no shipment."

She heard the whine of weapons warming up. The weapons, known as IPBs, because they fired ionised plasma bolts, were the standard weaponry in the galaxy and available in various sizes and power ranges, from stun to obliterate. Those sold for non-military use within The Kalenth Hegemony were fitted with cut-off switches so that the authorities could disable them remotely.

They never learn, she thought. "If you so much as twitch a trigger finger, every automated security system in the port will kick in. The weapons will be rendered inoperative and this entire hangar will be locked down. You won't get out. The local garrison will come down on you with both boots. And Zerbilla will be terminating your employment – if you're lucky."

The head thug glanced behind him and the IPBs were powered down.

"Mister Zerbilla said half now, half when he's seen the stock," Zerbilla's man said.

Hila, being a savvy space trader, pointed to the pouch on the floor. "One: That's not half the payment. Two: I don't have time to hang around while you take the cargo away and he examines it. Three: That's not half the payment." Hila paused. "I feel that's an important point worth repeating."

The first pouch was kicked back to her and another pouch full of credits landed by its side.

"Tell Zerbilla that I'm being generous here only because I know he's good for it." She pulled out a comm unit. "Kami, open the cargo door."

"Okay," the tinny response crackled from the comm.

The ship's cargo door grumbled as it slowly opened.

As they waited for the cargo bay ramp to extend, Zerbilla's head thug made an attempt at small talk. "What cargo did you tell the customs officer it was?"

"Slaves," she replied.

The man found that amusing. Hila couldn't fathom why. It was standard procedure when bribing a customs officer to get illegal goods through to tell them it was something to which they were prepared to turn a blind eye. Strangely enough, customs officers in the border regions seemed to have no problem with the illegal kidnapping and enslavement of another sentient being, but if they found out you were smuggling food – high value, taxable food – then they either asked for more money or realised what their job was and had you arrested.

"Aren't you going to pick your money up?" asked the thug.

"Maybe later," replied Hila casually. Does this dolt think I was born yesterday?

"You should pick it up."

She wasn't about to bend over to retrieve the pouch, not for fear of attack, but she didn't want the heavy to get a look at her backside. "Why? There's no one here that's going to steal it."

With a final whine and a thump the cargo door finished opening, and the bag of money remained where it lay with no further comment.

"After you," Hila said. She followed the leader and four of the henchmen followed her into the cargo bay.

Hila directed Zerbilla's men to where the crates were located. The leader had the four well-muscled men carry them to the truck that was reversing up to the hold. Hila cast a quick glance over her shoulder at Kamina. The girl was in a darkened corner obscuring her features, only the whites of her eyes stood out, caught in an errant beam from a nearby light. But Hila didn't need to see Kamina to know what she looked like. Hila thought the girl looked like she should be anywhere but hanging around with a dodgy spacer like herself.

She was small and thin, with dark almond shaped eyes and long dark hair, that Kamina constantly let fall in her face to hide the scar on her left cheek. The scar was six years old and had faded so that it was hardly noticeable, but Kamina was still self-conscious about it. Their eyes met in the gloomy hold and Hila smiled. Even though she couldn't see her clearly, she knew that Kamina smiled in return.

"Mister Zerbilla will contact you when he is satisfied," the head thug told Hila after the truck was loaded. He walked down the ramp, jumped into the back of the truck, and shouted for the driver to go.

Once the men had left, Kamina came out of the shadows and joined Hila at the top of the ramp. The young woman was wearing a bright red sleeveless shirt with a picture of a cartoon cat-like creature emblazoned on the front, and a pair of very short, white shorts that accentuated her smooth, olive skinned legs.

"Looks like we'll be spending some time here after all," sighed Hila.

"Can we afford it?" asked Kamina.

Hila sauntered outside and picked up the two pouches of credits. "We can now."

"So what are we going to do while we wait? Go into town and see the local sights?"

"No. I am going to pay Zerbilla a little visit. I want you to stay with the ship."

"Why can't I come with you?" Kamina was not happy about being told to stay behind.

"It's not safe."

"I've been in worse places."

"Not with me, you haven't."

"You'll need back up."

"Nah, it'll be fine."

"Hila, I—"

"No! Don't argue," the older woman said firmly.

The younger woman pouted but did not answer back.

"Promise me you will stay here."

"Fine, I promise," Kamina said grudgingly.

Seeing the bright light in Kamina's face go out, made Hila feel like a mother grounding her child. Hila grabbed a large handful of credits from one of the pouches and gave the rest to Kamina. "Put this in the safe," she said softly. "I'll bring you back something nice from town."

"Don't bother!" Kamina snatched the pouches and stormed out of the hold.

Hila watched the hatch swing shut behind Kamina and cursed herself. She just didn't know how to handle the kid.


Captain Garin Eadmon was by anyone's standards a beautiful woman, statuesque, exotic, full lips, with long hair as lustrously black as the shine on her boots. At age fifty, she felt it was time she was promoted and put in charge of a proper vessel. Her ship, Crusade , was a strike ship, and while it had seen some action, its primary function was to deliver the ground troops and get out.

She sat with Commodore Tielo Heln in a meeting room on Station 102. The commodore was an older man, with greying wisps of hair, slightly built and of average height. After sixty-five years of service, Heln was nearing retirement after what could only be described as a reasonable, rather than distinguished, military career. He had achieved the rank of Commodore, the highest rank someone of the Fethusal caste can be promoted to, through hard work and diplomatic acumen, not combat heroics. His reward was the Sword , a state of the art heavy cruiser, designed to engage enemy ships in space or bombard planets from orbit.

"Any idea what she's like?" asked Eadmon, more to hear the sound of something other than the drone of the air conditioning. During the early days of The Hegemony's expansion, the space fleet was refuelled and resupplied by a network of space stations. Over the centuries, as ships got faster and their range increased, the need for such facilities had declined to the point that there were now only a handful of ageing stations still in operation. Of those stations still active, Station 102 was the oldest. Its close proximity to Kalenth still made it strategically important as a spaceport for fleet operations. So much so that one hundred kilometres away a new station was under construction. In the meantime, four thousand military personnel and civilian support staff made do on the antiquated hub.

Eadmon hated these old stations and their humming mechanisms; it always accentuated the fact that there was no breathable atmosphere outside the windows.

Heln cast a blank look at his compatriot.

"This Aloyd Karthen?" prompted Eadmon.

"No idea. She's new."

"I know she's just out of the Elit Military Academy, but I thought you might have heard something."

"Graduated Aloyd, First-Class is all I know."

"Oh… still she's probably just another one of those over-privileged brats who knows nothing of 'real soldiering'. The Elit don't like to get their hands dirty." Eadmon had earned her Captain's bars by seeing more than her share of action on border patrol in The Hegemony's last expansion in the 1580's, and didn't relish playing nursemaid to a wet behind the ears aloyd. "First real action we see, and I bet she runs home to mummy begging for a desk job at HQ!"

"My 'mummy' is a member of the judiciary, so that will not do me any good."

Eadmon jumped to her feet, as did Commodore Heln. "Aloyd, I—"

"Don't bother apologising," interrupted Aloyd Karthen. "You meant it; do not compound the situation by lying. And you're partly right. I know little of 'real soldiering', but I will not be running away. I never run away."

"Yes, Aloyd," Eadmon replied crisply.

"Sit," Aloyd Karthen said, and all three military officers took a seat at the conference table.

"Commodore Heln, you were chosen for this assignment because of your experience in diplomacy and logistics and Captain Eadmon for your front line combat experience, and I will need to rely on that experience. I hope you'll give me your council freely, but under no circumstances will you question my orders. You may ask me for clarification of any order or express disagreement in private, but only then. Is that understood?"

Eadmon and Heln chorused their understanding.

"Likewise any comments regarding my suitability. I can and will destroy you if you impugn me in front of any of your crew."

Eadmon hadn't felt this small since she was at military college. Aloyd Karthen had issued the same warnings that other superior officers had made in the past. Only Eadmon believed that Aloyd Karthen truly meant every word.

"Down to business," Karthen announced. "We are to proceed to Gatlor where a group of subversives are trying to undermine The Hegemony's rule with a campaign of anti-Hegemony propaganda. As you are probably aware, Gatlor has been under Hegemony rule for nearly one thousand years, so the subversives are gaining very little support at the moment. Our remit is to put a stop to them before they gain any further support."

The aloyd inserted the mission data chip into a presentation console located on the conference table. The first image to appear on the screen was a sector chart of the Gatlor Star System.

"Our first task will be to determine if they are operating from a single base, and if so where it is. We can then use the Sword to neutralise the location. If they are embedded in an area where orbital bombardment would cause too much collateral damage then we send in the ground troops. Any questions?"

"What constitutes 'too much collateral damage'?" asked Heln.

"That will be for me to determine at the time."

"Do we have a starting point? A name? A location?" asked Eadmon.

Karthen looked at her for several seconds. "No," she said eventually.

"With all due respect, shouldn't we have at least that before we send two ships there?"

"It will be nine days before we arrive; by then intelligence operatives on the ground will have more information for us."

"And if they don't?" asked Heln.

"Then I will have to get my hands dirty." The aloyd paused long enough for Eadmon to squirm with embarrassment. "Commodore Heln, I will have Captain Wurth dock my ship in your secondary hangar bay. We will leave in…" she glanced at the chronometer, "two hours."

"Very good, Aloyd. I will recall those on station leave immediately."

"As will I," added Eadmon.

"I did not realise your crews were on station leave. Make it three hours."

"That's very kind of you, Aloyd," said the captain.

"Indeed," echoed the commodore.

The aloyd dismissed them without further comment.

The two career officers stood, raised their fist to the left side of their chests and offered their new aloyd a respectful salute and turned to leave.

With every step towards the door Eadmon was waiting for it. She had a foot raised and was about to step out of the door, finally thinking it wouldn't happen, when it did.

"One moment, Captain Eadmon."

Fuck, she thought. She turned slowly. "Yes, Aloyd?"

"Come here, please."

Eadmon walked back the length of the room; it suddenly seemed a lot longer.


Kamina had sulked in her room long enough. I'm not going to just sit here like a puppy waiting for its master to return, she thought. The young woman grabbed her jacket and headed for the stairway down to the cargo deck and the crew exit.

A short taxi ride took Kamina into town. Town was over stating it; it was really just a small collection of stores, lodgings, and bars. There were very few private dwellings since only those who worked in town or at the spaceport lived here. It was run down, dirty, and for most of civilised society it wasn't exactly safe. However, for Kamina this place held no fear, in fact she felt at home.

Years ago, when she was too young to fully remember, Kamina's family was killed and she found herself on the streets of a place much worse than this. Polen City, where she was born, was two hundred square kilometres of densely packed housing and industry, and one five-year-old orphan did what she had to – stealing money or food to survive. She always managed to avoid the worst situations, unlike other street urchins who were lured with the promise of a meal and a bath and were never seen again.

Kamina looked out of the taxi window, around the dirty streets of this tiny hamlet and felt secure. There might not be that many places to hide, but she wasn't planning on stealing anything. She had always been good at getting away from bad situations, but she was always reminded of that one time, six years ago when she didn't. Kamina had seen an easy mark. The guy looked as if he didn't belong. He looked scared. He looked like a target. Kamina reasoned that if she didn't rob him, someone else would. What Kamina didn't realise was that the guy was not alone. He had a bodyguard who was out of sight. All Kamina remembered was grabbing the guy's satchel and then waking up in hospital. With only a broken arm and ribs and a slashed face, she considered herself lucky to have survived.

The taxi came to a stop and let Kamina out. She headed for the nearest bar. It was very crowded inside and she squeezed her way up to the bar and ordered a draught.

"ID," said the bartender.

Kamina pulled out her card and showed it to the bartender. He eyed it suspiciously. The ID gave her correct age, but she did look younger than her nineteen years. Kamina was used to the scrutiny her ID got.

The bartender eventually shrugged, handed the card back, and grudgingly served her what passed for ale in this backwater dive.

Kamina climbed up on a nearby stool and leaned her back against the bar. Her eyes were well-adjusted to the very dim lighting and automatically scanned the room to assess the level of risk. When she turned her head to get a look over her right shoulder, she felt her stomach muscles clench. It wasn't a menacing stranger she saw; it was Hila seated at a small table in the far corner, and she wasn't alone.

There was a woman with Hila, and she was wearing the skimpiest clothes imaginable without being naked. Hila leaned in and whispered something in the woman's ear. The woman appeared to think for a moment, then smiled and nodded. Hila gave the woman some credits and the two of them headed to a staircase, which led upstairs.

Kamina wanted to hurry after them and drag Hila back to the ship. Instead she looked down at her drink. It wasn't big enough. She downed it quickly, ordered a bottle of durmywid, a strong spirit, and headed back to the ship.


Before the briefing with Eadmon and Heln, Kikola had reviewed the personnel files of the two officers. Eadmon's records had indicated she was sometimes in need of firm command, so Kikola took the opportunity to assert her authority. Having dismissed the commodore, she had Captain Eadmon remain.

Eadmon stood to attention. Kikola started to slowly circle behind the captain, one slow pace at a time.

There were several ways to gain control over an older subordinate officer who may resent taking orders from someone so young and inexperienced. One of them was fear. The untrained may think it would be a matter of shouting at the officer and threatening them with all manner of punishments. Not so. Kikola had learned that if you shouted loudly, you better be the loudest shouter they had ever heard. While if you kept quiet, no one could be quieter. If you told someone what you would do to them, they could be relieved if they imagined you'd do something worse. While if you said nothing, then what they imagined is what they believed you would do.

"Dismissed, Captain," Kikola said softly, causing the officer to jump slightly.

"Yes, Aloyd. Thank you, Aloyd." She saluted and quick marched out of there.

While Captain Eadmon had been standing to attention, expecting who knows what to happen, Kikola had been thinking about what she would have for breakfast.

After the briefing with Commodore Heln and Captain Eadmon, Kikola found herself with more time to kill on Station 102 than she would have liked. She was eager to get underway, but had granted the crews of the Sword and Crusade a few more hours of leave. So she decided to check in with the base commander.

The Base Commander was Aloyd, Third-Class Jacand Ciroc ap Kendai. He had been given command of the old military resupply base so he could finish his remaining two years of service and retire.

"Aloyd Karthen, it is an honour to meet you. Welcome to Station 102. I trust you had an uneventful journey."

"Yes, fine. If I can just have my transit documents authorised, I will be on my way—"

"Nonsense, you must at least stay for breakfast. It's not every day we get to entertain an Aloyd, First-Class. Besides, I want to hear the latest news from Kalenth." The base commander tapped his comm and was about to inform the kitchen when Kikola stopped him.

"I am afraid I cannot stay." She handed the base commander her data chip. "My orders are to proceed to the coordinates on this data chip with all possible speed."

The Kendai family were not the newest members of the Elit, but to the Karthens they were still yet to gain a proper heritage, and therefore proper respect. It didn't help that the Kendai family, more often than not, sided against the Karthen family in Council debates. Also the fact that Kikola, a recent graduate, outranked him, an aloyd close to retirement, only reinforced her belief in the family's inferior status.

Aloyd Kendai took the data chip and added his authorisation code. As he handed it back to Kikola, he said, "Did you know I knew your father, Strambik ap Karthen?"

"No, I didn't." Kikola was unsettled by Kendai's mention of her father but she didn't immediately stop him. It was always awkward when her father was mentioned. Strambik ap Karthen had been an ambassador to the Seconthan Republic. His ship was reported destroyed as it returned through the Graelands. Seconthan rebels, the Losper Empire, and Graeland pirates were suspected, but no one claimed responsibility and no evidence implicating anyone was discovered.

Kikola was eight years old when her father disappeared. No one in the family talked about him much after that. Kikola had sometimes wondered if he existed at all, because she could hardly remember his face. It is strange how a child copes with loss.

"Oh. Well, that was many years ago – before the Expansion Campaign of 1580," Aloyd Kendai replied sombrely. "The Hegemony lost a good man – your father."

Kikola struggled to believe that a man like Kendai could have known a man as accomplished as her father. Kikola suspected the base commander was trying to curry favour by ingratiating himself to a superior officer. The campaign of 1580, though short, saw its fair share of aloyds gain promotion. The fact that Kendai was still Third-Class, the lowest rank of aloyd, meant he had not done anything to merit a promotion in his entire sixty-eight year career in the military.

Yet, true to her academy training and her upbringing, Kikola made no other comment nor showed any emotion. She simply returned the data chip to her inside jacket pocket and left.

By the time Kikola returned from the base commander's office, the Conqueror had been brought aboard the Sword and was secured in the heavy cruiser's secondary hangar bay. At precisely 1130 hours, Kikola's command group took off from Station 102, and once they were clear of the station, Kikola gave the order to jump to light speed. There was nothing for an aloyd to do on the bridge when a ship was cruising at light speed, but Kikola stayed until the bridge crew shift change at 17:00, then she left the Sword's bridge and retired to her quarters for the evening. She had been offered a suite on the Sword , but she declined, preferring instead to reside on her personal ship, the Conqueror, while not on duty.


From his sprawling estate on Shibato, Boran Zerbilla liked to kick back in his favourite loose-fitting casual shirt and slacks and enjoy the view from the back deck of his house. He enjoyed the view more with a cold Red Giant cocktail in his hand. The setting sun turned the rocks of the valley below a dark orange colour that matched the dark orange of his drink. He took a sip. The sweet fruit masked the taste of any alcohol, an aspect of the drink that could lead the unwary into drinking too much. He took another sip, relaxed back in his chair, and enjoyed the cool breeze that blew across the mountain peaks.

Boran had chestnut coloured hair, his chiselled features were offset by soft brown eyes and a carefully trimmed moustache that looked so natural you would swear he was born with it. He spent most days overseeing his lucrative import-export business, so he cherished these quiet moments; time alone relaxing at home was a precious commodity to the fifty-six year old businessman. Unfortunately, his serenity was disturbed when he noticed a dust trail on the road in the valley below. Since there was nowhere else to go on the road but to his estate, he knew to expect a visitor, and he had a good idea who it was.

He took another sip of his drink and waited.

"I expected you earlier," Boran said when he heard the scuffing of footsteps on the ground behind him.

"I was busy," said Hila.

"I'm sure you were," the businessman replied, as the freighter captain sat down in an empty chair next to him.

"Did my men behave themselves?"

"Other than trying to short my payment and powering up their weapons inside the spaceport, they were complete gentlemen."

"I will deal with them."

"So, have you checked the shipment?" Hila asked.

Before Boran could reply, his daughter Tana appeared. Tana was twenty-four years old. She had the same chestnut colour hair as her father, but that's where the similarity stopped. Tana had hard blue eyes and a pinched face that was always scowling, at least when Hila was around.

"Oh, it's you." Tana's voice was layered with disdain.

"Nice to see you, too, Tana," replied Hila sarcastically.

"What's she doing here?" Tana asked her father.

"Business," said Hila. "Mine. Not yours."

Tana clicked her tongue in disgust. "It's always money with you."

"Look around you. How do you think your father bought all this?"

"Come on girls," said Boran. "Play nice." For the most part he liked his daughter, but Tana disliked Hila intensely for some reason, and whenever the two got together, he felt like he had to play referee. It was not a situation he liked to be in, especially as he always seemed to be biased in Hila's favour.

Tana's scowl deepened. She 'humphed', turned on her heels, and went back inside the house.

"So, where were we?" Boran asked, relieved that the situation was over quickly.

Hila returned the conversation back to the business at hand. "The shipment – have you checked it?"

"No," he replied, "but I'm sure it's fine. I've got your money in the house. You can take it when you go."

"What's going on? You held back half the money knowing I'd come out here, and you're just going to pay me? Just like that – without even checking the cargo? Which, by the way, doesn't need checking. And since when have you ever known me to cross you?"

"Yes, I held back knowing you'd come out here. I wanted to speak to you about… about a personal matter."

"So, what personal matter did you want to see me about?" the dark haired woman asked.

Boran mentally took a deep breath, not because he was afraid of how Hila would react to what he was about to say, but how he would react. "I have a job for you, but this is not business."

"Oh? Who do you want me to kill?"

"Huh? What?" It took him a moment to process what she had said. "It's nothing like that. I need you to find someone for me, and I am willing to pay you handsomely for your trouble."

"Go on; I'm listening," the freighter captain replied.

"A few years ago, you may remember, I had a little problem with a certain business woman."

Hila nodded.

"Well," he continued, "I ended up with her slave. And before you say anything, I didn't keep her as a slave. I had to… I guess train her how to be free. Her name was Tehvay, I think you saw her around the estate a few times, but I never introduced you." His estate was large and he liked to keep his business and his private life separate from each other.

Hila's brow furrowed as she tried to recall the woman Boran was talking about. "Short. Dark hair."

"A little over average height. Blonde hair."

"Maybe. You said 'was'. Something happened?"

"Yes. About a month ago, Tehvay approached me and said she wanted to do something to repay me for helping her. Tehvay wanted to be of some use. She managed to convince me to let her go to Kalenth with Marleen to… that's not important. I got a call from Marleen saying Tehvay had been arrested as a fugitive slave."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you think she may have said anything about you?"

"I wouldn't be here talking to you if she had."

"No, I guess not."

"Besides, slaves can't testify. The law decrees their word is worthless. Anyway, I told Marleen to get off Kalenth as quickly as she could, but you know her, stubborn as the day is long on Jersonin. Marleen hung around to find out what would happen to Tehvay, and to both our surprise, Tehvay wasn't sentenced to…" Boran paused; he couldn't bring himself to say the word. "The expected."

"That's good news right?" Hila offered.

"It means she's alive, but where she is, I don't know. That's what I want you to find out."

"How do you expect me to do that?"

"Hila, you're the only person I know who can … who I trust to do this. I'm not asking you to make this your top priority. You'll need to be discreet and go about your usual business without arousing suspicion. Well, no more than usual. But I said I'll pay you and I'll pay you well to find her."

"Boran, I—"

"Whatever it takes. If you incur any expenses, let me know, I'll pay you double. I know you won't stiff me. Tehvay is alive, and if you do find her, report back to me immediately. If you can bring her back, you'll never need to work again."

"She really means that much to you?"

"Yes, she is like my own daughter," Boran felt his paternal concern for Tehvay swell. "When I first encountered Tehvay, she was like an innocent child in many ways. She had no concept of what the galaxy was really like. I had the responsibility of teaching her, and I failed her. The others that work for me, even Tana, I don't give a shit about them. They're in it for the money, just like you."

"No offence taken."

"The offence was meant. And you didn't let me finish. I was going to add me to the list. Make no mistake, Hila, we're not the good guys in this life. So if we can prevent one person from becoming what we are, that will go some way to address the wrongs we've done."

"There are no good guys, Boran. We're no different to anyone else."

"Oh, we are. We may not be the worst, but we're certainly not the best. And there are good guys out there. Tehvay for one."

"Give me all the intel you have, and I'll see what I can do."

Relief swept over Boran as he pulled a data chip from his pocket and handed it to Hila. "That's all I have. Thank you."

When she took the data chip, Hila gave his hand a squeeze.

"Kalenth will be a good place to start," said Boran. "Go see Pan Willam on Argos Station. She's got a cargo shipment that needs to go to Kalenth. Don't worry, it's legal."


Hila found Kamina asleep in the cockpit with an open bottle of durmywid cradled against her chest. Hila carefully removed the bottle from Kamina's limp grasp and put it to one side.

"Give it!" Kamina muttered sleepily and held a hand out.

"No. No. You've had enough."

"Don't tell me I've had enough. You're not my boss."

"Well, technically, I am."

"Pfft, picky, picky, picky! Give it!"

"I've got something else for you."

Kamina perked up at that. She opened her eyes fully and sat up straight. "What?"

"I said I'd get you something nice. Here," she held out a small box.

Kamina snatched it and opened it. "It's beautiful." She carefully extracted a bracelet from the box and slipped it over her wrist. "Thank you!" She beamed a smile, but it suddenly faded. "Where'd you get it? There's nowhere here that sells something as nice as this."

"True. It is second hand, but—"

"It didn't belong to that prostitute did it?"

"Yes. Wait! What? How?"

"I saw you." Kamina ripped off the bracelet and threw it back at Hila. "You think I want some whore's second hand trinket."

Hila fumbled the bracelet and just managed to stop it from hitting the deck. "It's not a trinket, it's real gold."

"Shove it!" Kamina jumped out of the chair, grabbed the bottle and ran to her quarters.

Hila watched her go. She didn't like to see Kami upset, especially being the cause of it. It wasn't something a second hand bracelet was going to solve. Hila wanted to go to Kamina and hold her and tell her everything would be okay, but she would only mess it up, so she left Kamina alone and set about prepping the ship for launch.



Tehvay awoke, sat up on her bunk and stared at the far wall. She had forgotten the tedium of being a slave with nothing to do. Before her freedom it would have been a welcome relief to have nothing to do, but after discovering the joys of reading, watching vids, talking to friends or even just going for a walk, this down time dragged. It was a welcome relief when she heard her owner's arrival.

She came out of her cell to seek out her owner and found the aloyd in the dining room standing by the food dispenser. "Are you hungry?" the aloyd asked Tehvay.

The slave was thrown by the question, but she knew better than not to answer. "Uh… yes, Aloyd Karthen."

"What do you want? There's not much of a selection, just basic ship rations."

It felt unnatural, and more than a little uncomfortable, for the slave to be waited on by her owner. Tehvay surprised herself and rushed forward. "Shouldn't I do the serving?"

"It has been a long time since I have had a slave to serve me," the aloyd said, seemingly embarrassed by Tehvay's offer.

They clumsily avoided touching each other as they switched positions in the narrow confines of the galley. Tehvay picked up the tray of food that the aloyd had already prepared for herself and took it to the table where Aloyd Karthen was now sitting.

"We weren't allowed slaves at the Academy," the aloyd explained. "And it's been many months since I have been to the family home." Aloyd Karthen broke the seal on her serving. "You may get your meal now."

"Thank you, Aloyd Karthen."

Tehvay returned to the food dispenser, made her selection, and pushed a button. Thirty seconds later a plastic tray containing a grey sludge that claimed to be a fish based protein dinner was served. She picked it up and started back towards her cell.

"Stay. Sit here," said the aloyd, directing the slave to sit at the table.

This felt wrong to Tehvay. She had started to come to terms with slavery again, and slaves don't eat at the owner's table, let alone with the owner. Despite this, Tehvay obeyed without comment and set her tray down at the opposite end of the rectangular table.

"No, sit here, next to me."

Tehvay momentarily froze. Every fibre of her being was telling her to be wary of her new owner's intentions. Yet, while the aloyd's behaviour seemed unorthodox, there was no malice in her command. So, Tehvay picked up her tray again and moved to a chair next to the aloyd.

"I see you went for the fish," noted her owner. "I have the vegetable stew."

Tehvay glanced at the contents of both trays. The food looked the same to Tehvay. The standard food dispenser created the selected meal from a store of protein that was constructed into the desired dish, injected with synthesised flavours, inserted into a tray that quickly heated the meal to the correct temperature, and kept it warm while being eaten. Hence the generic look to all meals.

"The fish is palatable but not like the real thing," continued the aloyd. "Have you ever had real fish?"

Tehvay had to stop herself from laughing at the ridiculous question. "No, Aloyd Karthen."

Tehvay was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the meal, even if it did look unappetising. If these are basic ship rations and she thinks it merely palatable, what is she used to?

The two were silent for the remainder of the meal.

"You shall have some when we get to Gatlor," the aloyd announced when Tehvay had eaten all she could of the grey sludge on her tray.

"Pardon, Aloyd Karthen?"

"Some real fish."

"Thank you, Aloyd Karthen." Tehvay did not know what else to say.

"I am… I am pleased that you're behaving like a proper slave now. Your period of freedom had damaged you, but it seems it is not irreparable."

Tehvay felt the sting of her owner's observation. She had never been a slave to an Elit before. Are they all this socially inept? she wondered.

After a moment, Aloyd Karthen said. "Tell me about yourself."

"About me?" That shocked Tehvay; no owner had ever asked her to talk about herself before. Tehvay didn't know if she should be suspicious or flattered. "Uh, what do you want to know?"

"Well for a start, how old are you?"


The aloyd nodded. "I am twenty-seven. I will be twenty-eight in nine months time."

"You don't do this very often, do you?" Tehvay asked, supressing a smile. On reflection she thought she should have supressed the question, but the aloyd appeared not to notice the indiscretion.

"Do what?"

"Talk to people," Tehvay clarified. If she wants to know, I'll tell her.

"I talk to people a lot."

"I mean in a one-to-one private conversation like this."

"No," the aloyd admitted. "But you're not a person; you're a slave."

Tehvay had reached her limit of playing the docile slave. If this aloyd wanted to ask blunt questions, she was going to give blunt answers.

"No. I am a person who happens to be a slave. But you're not talking to me like I'm a slave. You're talking to me like I'm a person."

"I am? How did your previous owners talk to you?"

"They didn't… Certainly not how you're doing it now."


Tehvay noticed the aloyd's cheeks blush for the smallest fraction of a second.

"There is something I would like you to answer for me," her owner continued.

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen?"

"How did you escape from slavery?"

This was a little unusual to Tehvay. No owner asked personal questions, but if Aloyd Karthen want to know, Tehvay would tell her. "My last owner was Faelene Gallish."

"I have heard that name. Gallish Communications. She was murdered about four years ago."

"That's her. The darling of the business world, a Fethusal privateer taking on the might of the Elit owned companies. All smiles and charm for the press, but a vicious scheming bitch in private. I was with her for three years. She won me in a card game believe it or not. That was how she did business, playing the odds. She gambled and won. A lot.

"Then she crossed the wrong person. I won't name names because I owe the man a great deal. He runs a…" Tehvay paused, not wanting to reveal details of her saviour. "Let's just say he has a code of honour. Gallish didn't.

"When he discovered she was setting him up to take a fall for something that she'd done, he killed her."

"And you were a witness to this?"

"Yes, I was there. She knew he was coming to see her, and that he'd be angry, though I doubt she was expecting to get murdered. I was a sweetener to keep him happy. ' Fuck the slave senseless, ' she told him. ' Beat it, kill it, anything you want. ' She was more than willing to sacrifice me to save herself, but he was having none of it."

Tehvay watched the expression on the aloyd's face as she told her the story. Aloyd Karthen appeared shocked at what Tehvay was describing.

"This man, he was the one that freed you?"

"Yes. He took me with him. He got me a new identity. Gave me some work. Taught me to stand up for myself. He taught me how to live as a freeborn person. He demanded nothing in return. I gave him loyalty; that was all he took from me." It hurt Tehvay to talk of Boran. He was a kind and gentle man – more like Tehvay imagined a father would be. She felt tears well up as she realised she would never see him again.

"How did you get caught?"

"I was on Kalenth to do a job for him, and while there, I just happened to bump into someone who used to work for Gallish. He saw that I wasn't in slave clothes anymore and called the authorities."

"This man you were working for, he didn't try to get you out of prison?"

"I knew the risks. There was a small chance some automated system might recognise me as a fugitive slave. I didn't expect it to be a person. I was just thankful my friend was not with me when I was caught."

"Oh. I didn't realise slaves had friends."

Tehvay made sure she was calm before responding. "I told you, I'm a person. Just like you."

"Don't be ridiculous! You're not like me!" the aloyd said incredulously. "I am Elit. You're a slave. Never mistake the two as being alike."

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen." Tehvay had thought better of arguing the point, and cleared the table without further comment.

"Would you bring me a glass of water?" Aloyd Karthen asked.

Tehvay pushed a button on the food dispenser and filled a glass with water while the aloyd moved from the table to a sitting area on the other side of the room.

Tehvay handed her owner the glass of water. Aloyd Karthen retrieved a red tablet from her breast pocket and took the pill with the water, and drank until the glass was empty.

"Do you require anything else, Aloyd Karthen?"

"No, but I do have more questions. Have a seat."

Have a seat? Tehvay thought. Her previous owners required her to do many things, but sitting down and having a casual conversation was never one of them. Tehvay complied and sat in the chair opposite her owner.

"What else would you like to ask me, Aloyd Karthen?"

"Do you have family?"

"No – none that I know of, at least. I assume I was born at a slave hostel."

"Ah yes, of course."

Most, though not all, slaves came from a breeding population that were maintained in slave hostels. Slave hostels were also where slaves without owners were kept. This included children born of slaves, who were taken from their mothers at birth and raised in a childcare collective until the age of five. At five, a slave child was sold to individual owners for training, or farmed out to work in factories, mines, or other industries.

"Records are kept of a slave's parentage," continued Tehvay, "but we are the last ones who'd be allowed access to them."

If Tehvay had been surprised by the aloyd's questioning before, she was truly stunned by what her owner said next.

"I feel sympathy for you. It must have been hard growing up without a family – a heritage. To the Elit, they are everything."

A silence fell and grew longer, before it became awkward Tehvay filled it. "May I ask you a few questions?"

"I suppose so. What do you want to know?"

"What made you join the military?"

"Because it was my turn," the aloyd said simply.

"What? Your turn? I don't understand," Tehvay replied.

"The Elit are business people, politicians, artists, soldiers, scientists, diplomats, judges – the cream of society," Karthen explained. "Each family is equally responsible for The Hegemony. My role in life was pre-ordained. My elder brother is a director of Karthen-Willenth Pharmaceuticals. If I had a younger sibling then they would have become a musician. As it is, that role will fall to my brother's first born."

"So you had no choice?" asked Tehvay.


"What would you like to do?"

"I don't understand."

"If you had a choice, what would you like to do?"

"That is irrelevant," her owner replied. "There was no choice. My whole life has been preparing me for this. To go against years of training, centuries of tradition, makes no sense."

"You're more of a slave than I am," Tehvay concluded.

The aloyd bristled at the suggestion. "Nonsense. I have free will."

"No, you don't."

"What do you mean?" Aloyd Karthen seemed more confused than insulted.

"You didn't choose to go into the military; it was chosen for you. And you've accepted your lot in life without question." Now I understand why she finds it so hard to comprehend that I won't accept mine , Tehvay thought.

Aloyd Karthen said nothing for a bit and then she finally replied, "Paint."


"Paint. I enjoy art. Painting in particular. I would have liked to have been an artist."

"Do you paint in your spare time?"

"No. I have had no training in it. I have only learnt about art appreciation and history, not how to create it."

"Is there a painter in your family?"

"My cousin, Trin'hale. She used to ask me to pose for her when I was a child. She isn't very good at portraits, if I am honest."

"If you don't paint, what do you do in your spare time?"

"Read. Watch vids. Keep fit."

"Vids? I can't imagine you watching vids," Tehvay replied.

"Why not?"

Tehvay couldn't tell the aloyd that she thought her a stuck up, humourless, inbred idiot, so she skirted replying to the question and asked another. "What vids do you like?"

"I am particularly interested in history, science, art. I even watch some dramas. What do you do in your free time?" the aloyd asked.

"I'm a slave; I don't have free anything."

"Of course, I apologise."

That's a first, thought Tehvay. An owner had never apologised to her before.

"Can you read?" her owner asked.


"I could let you have something to read for when you're in your cell. Or I could get a vid player for you and you can watch something."

"I… That… Thank you. I…" Tehvay coughed and blinked back tears. "Thank you, Aloyd Karthen. No owner has ever done that for me before."

"You intrigue me, Tehvay. I know you do not wish to serve me and that it's the lesser of two evils for you. So I want to make your servitude bearable. For both of us."

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen."

The aloyd got up from the chair, and Tehvay immediately rose to her feet without thinking.

"Well, this has been an interesting conversation," Aloyd Karthen said. "You may go into my bedroom and take the book reader on the cabinet and then go to your cell. I will expect you at 06:00 tomorrow."


Argos station orbited a moon in an uninhabited system that no one wanted to claim; hence it served as perfect neutral point for trade, not just into and out of The Hegemony, but also between the independent systems of the Graelands and other empires outside The Hegemony borders .

Pan Willam looked at the young woman tagging along behind Hila and gave the captain a questioning look.

"This is Kami," said Hila.

"Kamina," Kamina corrected her.

Hila smiled inwardly at the automatic correction. Hila knew that Kamina was not fond of being called 'Kami' now that she was grown up. But Hila had known her for six years, and in her eyes she was still the scrawny kid called Kami that her friends, the Dortmers, had adopted. At some subconscious level it helped Hila not to think of the woman that Kamina had become.

"Nice to meet you, Kamina," said Pan. She turned her attention back to Hila. "Andantian power cells: six thousand units, one hundred units a crate. Here's the paperwork."

Hila took the electronic documents and passed them to Kamina.

"What do I do with this?" asked Kamina, taking the documents.

"Make sure there's a power unit for every item on the manifest and get it in the cargo hold."

"But that'll take—"

"A lot quicker if you start it now. I'll be along to help soon."

"Aye, captain," Kamina saluted and flashed smile.

Hila was pleased to see the smile, the misunderstanding over the bracelet seemed to be behind them.

After a brief catch up with Pan, Hila went back to help Kamina.

The cargo was loaded and the paperwork in order, but Hila was not ready to leave just yet. Argos station's unique location offered the opportunity to purchase things that might not be available elsewhere – or at least not available for the right price.

"What are you going get?" asked Kamina as she and Hila left the airlock.

"I don't know. We'll see what's on offer."

They headed towards the market, but didn't get far. A woman stood in the middle of the corridor, hands on hips, a slight smile curled her lips.

"Like a bargain, do you?" she said.

"What's it to you?" Hila asked. The space-wise freighter captain sized the stranger up.

The young woman was a little shorter than Hila, with light brown skin and long dark hair tied loosely in a ponytail. What Hila took notice of the most was the big IPB on the woman's hip and the uniform. The woman was obviously from some security force, but not the station's force.

"Your ship?" the woman nodded to the airlock. "Don't see many of those around these days."

"There are enough of them about." Hila surmised the officer was trying to pin something on her.

"Do much trading around here? Or in the Trengos system?"

Hila took a step closer to the officer. "Never been to Trengos. If that's where you're from, then that means you're out of your jurisdiction."

The officer took a step closer to Hila and leaned forward. "Don't tell anyone," she whispered, "but where I come from, I don't need to worry about that. Especially on this station, which has a little agreement with us. See if I need to come here and drag someone back to face justice, I can." She straightened up and spoke at normal volume. "As it is, me and my partner have a full complement of prisoners, so count yourself lucky today."

"If I'm ever in the Trengos system and feel like getting arrested, who should I ask for?"

"Officer Rikana Lardis, Dansek Security," said the officer. "But don't worry Llyte, I know who you are. I'll be waiting." Lardis turned on her heels and walked away,

"What's her problem?" asked Kamina.

"Cops, they're all the same everywhere." Hila turned and flashed a smile at the young woman. "Come on, let's go shopping."

"Have you ever been to Trengos?"

"No. Too far into the Graelands."

"How'd she know your name?"

"Probably asked around the station. Come on, she's not a problem to worry about."


Rikana heard voices from the comm as she closed the airlock behind her. Her partner, Yuniph Veilan was hunched over the comm screen. Her long blonde hair fell forward almost obscuring her face; she tucked it back behind her ears.

She walked up behind Yuniph and looked down at the screen and saw Yuniph's parents: Asta, her mother and Pallin, her father. She raised a hand to the faces on the screen. "Hey, Mrs V., Mr V."

"Hello, Rikana," they chorused back.

Rikana stepped back and slumped into a nearby chair and watched the rest of the conversation.

"When will you be home?" asked Asta.

Yuniph frowned and rubbed her temples. "We should be leaving soon and it's a twelve day trip."

"I've got some chebol growing in the garden," said Pallin. "Should be perfect for your mother to make your favourite dish for when you get back."

"That'll be lovely." Yuniph raised a smile. "We've got to go. I'll call you tomorrow. Same time?"

"We'll be here," said Pallin.

"Bye, Yuni," said Asta.


Yuniph terminated the call and stood up.

Rikana was not the most sensitive of persons, but noticed that her partner was a little subdued. "You okay?"

"Just tired. Bit of a headache." Yuniph looked at her partner and raised an eyebrow. "Don't start worrying about me now or I might suspect you've been replaced by a look-a-like."

Rikana cackled. "How are our passengers ?" she asked.

"Locked up tight," said Yuniph.


Yuniph set her chair tidily under the desk. "I'm going for a lie down – try and get some sleep. Will you get us out of here?"


Yuniph headed towards her cabin as Rikana headed towards the cockpit.

"Oh, and Rikana!" Yuniph stopped and looked back.


"Leave the prisoners alone."

"I ain't going to touch them."

"Don't talk to them, either."

Rikana Lardis shook her head. "No fun," she muttered under her breath as she headed for the cockpit.

As the ship undocked, she cast a look out of the window to the ship docked at the next gantry. One 'Hila Llyte' owned it – a false name if ever she heard one, but not a name she had seen on any warrant or suspect list. The ship, however, was the same make as a slave raider ship seen in the Trengos system a few months ago.

There was no agreement to search ships or detain anyone without a warrant on Argos station, but Rikana had been half tempted to ignore that. She knew her partner would kick up a fuss about it not being regulation. So as much as she would have wanted to question Llyte further, she reluctantly let it go and took the ship's helm.

Thirty minutes, she thought. Veilan will be asleep and I can go and taunt the prisoners.

Rikana settled back and counted the minutes.


On the fifth day of the nine-day journey to Gatlor, Kikola visited the sickbay on the Sword . She had been noticing some unusual changes in her eating and sleeping patterns the last couple of days – changes for which she could not account.

Kikola lay still as the medical sensors scanned her. The doctor impassively examined the results on his monitor, and then set the device to re-scan Kikola's entire body one more time. The results were the same.

"According to this, you are in perfect health, Aloyd Karthen," said Doctor Catilol. "So why am I seeing you today?"

"I have been experiencing a slight loss of appetite and trouble sleeping," Kikola replied.

"How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?"

"The last fifty hours or so."

"Hmm," the doctor replied studiously. "There are no viral or bacterial infections, your muscle implants are in perfect condition; however, I see that you are taking diproxaline. That can have similar side effects if you miss a dose or the dosage of the pills is incorrect. Have you missed a dose?"


"I see you acquired the last lot on Kalenth."

"I have always got them from the family doctor."

"Have you had these symptoms before?"


"I ran tests on your adrenal system. You androgen levels are slightly elevated, which in turn increases the levels of testosterone, but they are within acceptable levels for a female of childbearing age. Since you are taking diproxaline, however, this is an anomaly. I cannot say what is causing it; however, I could increase the dosage to one tablet twice daily and that should lower your androgen levels and reset your libido back to a dormant state. Before I do that though, I am required to have you confirm the authorisation that says you voluntarily agree to take diproxaline to suppress your sex drive, and in doing so understand that it will affect your ability to conceive a child within three years of stopping the drug."

Kikola had no intention of procreating, and sex without procreation was irrelevant, or so she had believed. "Let me sleep on it."

Kikola left the sickbay and headed back to the Conqueror to conduct official business privately.

She went straight to her ready room and turned on the comm. She entered an encryption code to ensure that the conversation would be on a high security frequency.

A cube of bright white light sprung out of the screen, faded and coalesced into the three dimensional features of a man. He smiled and said, "Greetings Kikola. Or should I address you as Aloyd Karthen now?"

"Greetings to you Peltric. This is business, but we are family."

Peltric's smile widened for a moment, though it was hard to see behind his beard. "I received a communication from The Council that I was to expect a striker group. I am pleased to see it is you in command."

"Yes, I have been dispatched to Gatlor to suppress dissident activity. I am four days from Gatlor. I have yet to receive an intelligence update."

"It seems a trivial matter for The Council to take such action. So far there's not much of a threat – mostly people handing out propaganda leaflets. Kids some of them. The most serious incident was this morning when they attempted to hijack a news broadcast."

"That sounds more than trivial."

"Their hack was stopped after a few seconds. They barely had time to complete a sentence, let alone get their message across."

"I have my orders," Kikola said sombrely. "I am on my way to put a stop to them. I expect you to have enough intelligence information for me to complete my mission."

"Fine. I will check in with my agents and report back to you," the Governor of Gatlor acknowledged. "May I tell Trin'hale that you are coming? She will be so pleased to see you."

"Yes, though I can only visit for a few hours. I am coming on official business, after all."

"Of course," Peltric said. "But Trin'hale will be very put out if you do not at least stay for dinner."

"We will have to see. I will contact you when we are in Gatlor airspace. Karthen out."


Two days away from the destination, Commodore Heln invited Kikola to dinner and she accepted. While it was not something she was looking forward to, it prevented yet another evening in her quarters with her slave. Most evenings Kikola would order Tehvay to her cell early so she could be alone, but then Kikola would find herself more acutely aware of the slave's absence.

Captain Eadmon and Captain Wurth had also been invited and the four sat around the table making polite small talk, while the ship's slaves served the food. Most senior ranking officers had personal slaves, but only aloyds were permitted personal slaves while aboard ship. Instead, most large ships had a set of slaves for the menial tasks on board.

During the meal Kikola was bored by the small talk and let her mind wander.

"What is the status of our mission, Aloyd?"

Commodore Heln's question brought Kikola's focus back to the table.

"There are no definite suspects yet, but the investigation is progressing."

There was a barely audible disdainful exhalation of air from Captain Eadmon.

"You have something to say, Captain?" asked Kikola.

"This seems to be a complete waste of our time. It sounds like nothing more than a few individuals spouting nonsense that no one is paying attention to. It doesn't warrant military intervention, local security could deal with the matter."

"What you think is irrelevant. You're only here to obey my orders."

"I am merely offering my opinion, Aloyd." The words may have been conciliatory, but the tone and hard set to Eadmon's features suggested otherwise. "It's not for us to disobey orders," she continued. "However we must be sure the orders are justified and reasonable."

"What do you mean?" asked Kikola.

"The Council gave you orders based on information they had. You give us orders based on those orders. We give orders to our crew based on your orders. When there is that level of distance between the evidence and the order, it is reasonable to assume that there may be some questioning."

"The Council are Elit. I am Elit. That should be good enough."

"This may come as a shock to you, Aloyd," said Eadmon. "But most people are not that trusting. And did you not say that we could ask for clarification of your orders in private?"

Eadmon's words struck a chord with Kikola. Tehvay had commented that Kikola was too accepting of her position, that she never questioned anything she had been taught. Kikola was starting to realise that the slave may have been right.

"I did," Kikola admitted. "However I have given you all the information I have. No new information has come to light as yet. Under such circumstances, orders still stand. When further evidence is forthcoming, the situation will be reviewed and, if necessary, new orders will be given."

"Very well, Aloyd." This time Eadmon's words sounded more conciliatory.

"More wine, anybody?" asked Heln, trying to ease the tension.

Kikola regarded the Commodore. While Eadmon was direct and Kikola didn't fully trust her, Heln was an enigma. He seemed jovial in private, competent in command, and never gave Kikola cause for doubt about his loyalty, yet she sensed he was as just as cynical as Eadmon, only he had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

The one she understood the least was Wurth. His face always remained passive, his eyes giving nothing away. As captain of her personal cruiser, she felt she should make an effort to get to know him, but he gave no inclination that he wanted to get to know her. Their conversations had always been purely professional and during all the small talk over dinner he had contributed as little as Kikola had.

Kikola was aware of the slave to her right that had come to take away her plate. As the plate was lifted Kikola heard the sound of metal slipping against the porcelain. Her left hand moved quickly and grabbed the fork before it landed on her right arm. She held it out for the slave to take, but the slave was staring at her arm. A tiny drop of sauce had dripped from the utensil onto her sleeve. The slave slipped to its knees and bowed its head.

"I'm so sorry, Aloyd," it apologised in a quivering voice.

"What are you doing?" asked Kikola. "Stand up."

"Aren't you going to punish it?" asked Eadmon.

"Why would I do that?"

"It dropped the fork."

"That was an accident."

"There is sauce on your sleeve."

Kikola wiped the sauce away. "A tiny spot. See? It's gone." She turned to look at the slave again. It was still kneeling. "Stand up," she told it. "Take the fork and… go do whatever you were going to do."

"Yes, Aloyd. Thank you, Aloyd."

The slave took the fork and hurried away.

The captain of the Crusade had a disapproving look.

"You have something to say, Captain?"

"That could be considered a sign of weakness," said Eadmon.

"How is it weak to not punish a slave? It did nothing wrong."

"It made a mistake. Surely that deserves punishment?"

"The Elit do not beat their slaves."

Eadmon paused before replying. "I said 'punish', not 'beat'. Why would you think I meant that?"

"My new slave mentioned that it had been beaten by previous owners for minor infractions."

"You are taking guidance from a slave now?"

"I am Elit. I am an aloyd. I decide what I do. If I decide not to punish a slave, you will not question me. Remember your training, Captain."

"Why don't we get back to enjoying the meal," said Heln in a placating tone. "Let's not allow a trivial incident to spoil the mood."

"My apologies, Aloyd Karthen." Eadmon bowed her head.

"Good, that's settled," said Heln and signalled for the next course.


While her owner was eating a fine dinner made with real food, Tehvay sat alone in her cell picking at a plate of grey sludge as she read a novel. Aloyd Karthen's selection of books were mostly non-fiction. The one fiction book that Tehvay had found and selected was a boring historical fantasy novel. I wish I'd picked 'Doennscherr's Study of Late Middle Period Chanier Pottery' instead, thought Tehvay as she put the book reader down.

Aloyd Karthen had sent her to her cell early most nights. While this would have been a most welcome thing in the past, now it caused an odd feeling in Tehvay. She found herself missing Aloyd Karthen's company, even if the aloyd was her owner.

She's a contradiction. She's a soldier, yet her books are mostly about the history of art and culture rather than war. She demanded obedience, yet she asks me to do things rather than orders me.

The aloyd's stern manner had softened and she made attempts to talk to Tehvay, rather than talk at her, as was the case with other owners. But what surprised Tehvay the most was that her owner had made no attempt to abuse her, either verbally or physically, even when Tehvay had tried to provoke her at first.

After four years of freedom Tehvay felt uncomfortable and a little humiliated when she behaved like a slave; standing discreetly against a wall, head down, but eyes on her owner waiting for a signal. Yet when it came to performing a task for the aloyd, whether it was serving her a meal, helping her put on her uniform or even tidying up the bed, Tehvay didn't feel like a slave; Tehvay felt like she was doing a favour for a someone. It all probably stemmed from the fact that Aloyd Karthen was an undemanding owner and almost seemed embarrassed at having Tehvay do anything for her. The aloyd was someone who treated her with a measure of dignity, something no owner had ever done.

I'm almost beginning to like her.


It was still early when Aloyd Karthen left the table to return to her quarters. Eadmon loosened her collar and grabbed the bottle of wine to fill up her glass as soon as the door closed behind her superior officer.

Heln took a sip from his own glass and studied the captain over the rim.

"What's up, Garin?" he asked. "Butting heads with an aloyd isn't like you."

She knew Heln was a diplomatic person and not a person of action, like herself. Does he not understand what this mission is? she thought . "I don't like this mission."

"You usually crave action."

"Not against our own people. This isn't an enemy planet we're going to." She turned her attention to Wurth. "Do you know anything more about this that she's not telling us?"

Wurth shook his head. "I know as much as you."

"And are you happy with it?" she pressed.

"We do what we must for the good of The Hegemony," he replied flatly

"Even if it means killing our own ?"

"These traitors are the enemy; they are no longer 'our own '."

"Karthen talks about collateral damage; you know that means innocent people, right?"

"If sacrifices must be made, then so be it."

Wurth's even tone provoked Eadmon. "Are you even human?" she blurted out. "I'm all for obeying orders, but I've never been into battle without my conscience. I fought on T'Pasin. My squad was ordered to take a town and we did it, but I cried myself to sleep for a month afterwards."

"Do not assume how I will or will not feel, Captain. Unlike you, I have only been in service during a time of peace. Perhaps I will cry myself to sleep, perhaps not. I see no benefit to worrying about what may or may not happen. However, I believe The Hegemony should send a strong message to any who oppose it. Is that not why we joined the military?"

Spoken like a true Elit wannabe, thought Eadmon with disgust. Like all senior officers, Eadmon was of the Fethusal caste, but a lot of Fethusal saw the military as a way into the Elit, whereas she was career military.

"I'm going back to my ship," she said.

Eadmon grabbed an unopened bottle of wine from a side table, gave a hurried salute and left.


Kikola had left the dinner early but did not immediately return to her personal cruiser. She wandered the corridors of the Sword thinking about the slave that had dropped the fork. Or more precisely Eadmon's questioning of her decision to not punish the slave. The Elit may not beat their slaves, but they did mete out other punishments. Some could be considered as bad as a beating and the Elit certainly thought nothing of having a slave put down once it was no longer useful. But for as long as she could remember, Kikola never punished or called for the punishment of a family slave. They were well trained and made very few mistakes. The few mistakes they did make, Kikola never saw as warranting any action. She recalled one incident when a slave made a mistake that Kikola had let slide. It was spotted by another member of the family, and the slave was punished accordingly. When Kikola questioned the punishment, her uncle Toman admonished her for not following the rules regarding slaves.

Kikola thought about the slaves at dinner. She had spent a lot of the meal surreptitiously studying the slaves to see how they acted compared to Tehvay. She could see no difference in their demeanour or actions, but their eyes were dull, seemingly unfocussed as if they were not aware of what they were doing.

Tehvay's eyes aren't dull and unfocussed – they sparkle with intelligence. Tehvay? Kikola pondered. Why am I thinking of her? It! she corrected herself.

Maybe it's because of all that time at the Academy.

Personal slaves were not permitted at the Academy and students were expected to do everything for themselves. During that time Kikola had become used to solitude and privacy. In fact, she preferred it. Even on her frequent trips home, she never called upon a slave to assist her in private.

I'm just not used to slaves, that's why.

The biggest hurdle for Kikola to overcome was allowing Tehvay to help her to dress in the mornings. Nudity in front of another person who was not a spouse was a taboo among the Elit, though slaves did not count as 'people'. Yet somehow Kikola did not see Tehvay that way, and for all the discomfort she had initially felt, Kikola did not order Tehvay away.

Eventually her feet led Kikola back to her ship and into her quarters. She paused outside Tehvay's cell. Stealthily she opened the door. Tehvay was asleep, curled up on its side. Kikola studied the slumbering features of the slave: its cropped blonde hair, its long legs bent at the knee, the way Tehvay cupped its hands to rest its head more comfortably; the peaceful look on its face as it slept. All of which Kikola found to be strangely alluring.

She almost looks like a normal person.


The hum of the Glyndwr was comforting to Hila. It had been her home, her sanctuary, for thirteen years. It was a top of the range light cargo vessel, with emphasis on the 'was'. It had one large hold and a smaller secondary hold on the lower deck. From fore to aft, the upper deck consisted of the cockpit and stairs to the lower deck, the lounge and galley, two bunkrooms, a personal storage area, and the engine control room. It was already pushing forty years old when Hila bought it thirteen years ago, and even though it was solidly built, parts were starting to wear out. But, she knew every greasy corner, every creaky panel and every thrumming strut. For that decade and a bit they had become as one. There had been the occasional guest or passenger, but there was never another crewmember – until Kamina.

Kamina had been a scrawny, scruffy thirteen-year old when Hila first met her. Two of the few people she could call friends, Jarrel and Mirdo Dortmer, had rescued Kamina from the street and adopted her. Over the years she had seen the Dortmers once every couple of months and Kamina had always looked forward to seeing her. Hila surprised herself by looking forward to seeing Kamina, too. Six months ago the Dortmers were killed in an accident, and Kamina decided she wanted to stay with Hila. Hila couldn't say 'no'.

She loved having Kamina around, but the young woman upset the balance of Hila's ordered life. Sometimes it felt as though the ship was no longer hers. The Glyndwr was not very big, they had their own bunkrooms for privacy, but other than that it was difficult to avoid each other. There was a small area outside the cockpit that served the purpose of a lounge. It had a battered old couch, chairs, and an all-purpose table. Like everything else on the ship, the furnishings had seen better days.

Hila looked up from the poor fantasy novel she was reading and stared at Kamina, who had her back to Hila, hunched over a terminal scouring the infogrid for... Hila didn't want to know. Kamina was wearing a short dress that matched the colour of her skin. Hila had done a double take at first, thinking that the young woman was naked. It wasn't a dress that Kamina had worn before. It often amazed Hila how many clothes her sidekick possessed, and the variety of them. Hila normally dressed in her jacket, under which she wore one of her many simple white tank tops, and leather trousers. She saw no need for anything fancy or diverse in her line of work.

"I see you're wearing the bracelet," said Hila, feeling a need to break the silence.

Kamina glanced over her shoulder at Hila and then down at her wrist. "Yeah. It's nice, thanks."

"No longer upset about it being, what did you call it, 'a whore's second hand trinket'?"

"I was… I thought… I thought you went with the prostitute for… you know. I didn't realise you were just negotiating a price for the bracelet."

Hila suddenly felt pinned to her seat. She struggled to think of something to say and cringed as she heard the words coming out of her mouth. "Well… uh, actually…"

Fortunately for Hila, Kamina cut her off. "You did sleep with her!"

"I didn't want to spend too much cash," Hila explained.


Something shut down in Hila's brain. She should have kept quiet, but her mouth had other ideas. "I offered some money and sex with me for the bracelet."

Kamina's big eyes got bigger and her dark skin got darker. "You…" she spluttered, "you paid for the bracelet with sex? You prostituted yourself for the bracelet?"

"Well, I wouldn't have put it like that." Hila frantically kicked her brain to say something sensible. "I did it for you. I wanted to get you something nice."

"Well that makes all the difference!" Kamina shouted and stormed off to her bunk.

Oh, fuck! thought Hila.



Gatlor was the fifth planet in its system. Though it was currently experiencing a warm period in its geological history, nearly all settlements were enclosed and climate controlled. One of the exceptions was the island where the governor lived. Even in winter the warmer sea currents from the equator, and a large continent to the south blocking the stronger winds, made it possible to experience fresh air at a latitude where all other cities were sealed.

"Temperature outside is three degrees Celsius, with a wind chill of minus one Celsius," announced Captain Wurth who had insisted on the honour of flying the aloyd's shuttle himself. "It'll be warmer down on the coast where the governor's residence is: ten degrees Celsius, wind chill eight Celsius."

Kikola knew her uniform would be adequate protection for her, but Tehvay would be very uncomfortable in her thin blue shirt and trousers.

Kikola had not considered the cold temperatures on Gatlor when she made the decision to bring Tehvay to the surface with her. And that wasn't the only thing Kikola had not thought through. She wasn't sure it was proper protocol for her to show up with her personal slave on official Council business. But since this mission was also an opportunity to see her cousin Trin'hale, the governor's wife, Kikola felt justified in having her personal slave accompany her.

"Captain, after we are down, take off your jacket and give it to my slave. You can stay with the shuttle."

"Yes, Aloyd." Wurth knew better than to question an order, even if, as Kikola could see, he found it a strange one.

"It will be too cold for you without it," Kikola explained to Tehvay.

"Thank you, Aloyd Karthen."

Wurth landed the craft smoothly and immediately stood up to remove his jacket. He took his possessions out of the pockets before holding it out to his superior officer.

"I said, give it to my slave, Captain," as Kikola opened the hatch and stepped down.

The wind was not strong, but it was bitterly cold and she felt its sting on her face. Kikola looked up at the blue sky dotted with white clouds. As a child she loved being outdoors and would spend many hours just staring up at the clouds, captivated by their ever changing shapes and imagining all sorts of fantastic creatures that the shapes made.

She was disturbed from her reverie by soft footsteps behind her. She turned and looked at Tehvay huddled in Wurth's uniform jacket. It wasn't too long on her, but there was plenty of room in it for the lithe woman.

A transport trundled over from the distant control tower, its tyres crunching on the frozen ground, and came to a stop in front of them. A door in the rear opened and a tall, burly man, with deep-set brown eyes and a thick black beard, wearing a simple black suit, stepped out to greet the aloyd.

"Kikola! It's so good to see you." The Governor of Gatlor, Peltric ap Willenth, approached and gave her a big hug.

"It's good to see you too, Peltric," the aloyd replied as though the breath was being squeezed out of her lungs.

Peltric finally released her and pulled back. "Let me look at you," he said.

Kikola obliged and allowed Peltric to look her over.

"You certainly do justice to the uniform, I must say." Peltric beamed with almost paternal pride. "Although you are still too thin."

"And I see that Trin'hale is feeding you too many sweets," Kikola admonished him playfully.

"And speaking of Trin'hale – we better not keep her wait…" his voice trailed off as he saw Tehvay. His tone immediately changed to something a bit less welcoming. "I didn't realise you were bringing your slave with you."

"Is that a problem?" asked Kikola.

"There is no slave compartment on this vehicle. It will have to ride up front."

"It can ride in the back with us," said Kikola.

The governor raised an eyebrow at the unconventional suggestion but recovered quickly, "Of course."

Peltric gestured for Kikola to enter the vehicle. Kikola told Tehvay to get in first, and then climbed into the spacious, heated compartment after her. The governor eased his large frame into a seat and pressed a button on the bulkhead to close the hatch.

"I cannot wait for you to meet Rufen," said Peltric.

"How old is he now?"

"Three. Growing fast."

"What is he going to be?"

"A physicist."

Kikola nodded. "A good role."

"Yes it is," beamed Peltric. "Will you be able to stay for dinner?" he inquired.

"Yes. Do you think we could have fresh fish?"

"Yes, of course. I know how much you like it." The governor pressed a comm button on the arm of his seat. "Have the boat sent out to catch some fresh fish for dinner."

The voice on the other end acknowledged the governor's orders and Peltric ended the transmission.

"Thank you. I promised my slave that it could have some real fish."

"You treat your slave well."

"Do you not treat yours well?"

"I think it's important that they're treated well, but one shouldn't spoil them."

"I will bear that in mind. It's my first personal slave, and I am not entirely sure what the limits are."

Kikola suddenly became aware that she was discussing Tehvay with Peltric while Tehvay was present. Normally, talking about a slave in front of it was no different to talking about a table. But this time was different for Kikola. She glanced at Tehvay. The slave sat with her head bowed staring into her lap, she appeared to be unaware that she was being talked about.

"You will learn," said Peltric.

Kikola nodded. "Still I would appreciate it if you could arrange for my slave to have some fresh fish for its meal."

She risked another look at the slave. For a moment Kikola thought she saw Tehvay's mouth curl up in a smile.

"As soon as we arrive," the governor replied. He glanced out of the window. "Ah, and here we are."

Peltric led the way to the house. Trin'hale ap Willenth, the governor's wife, met them at the front door. She was a tall, broad shouldered woman with flowing blonde hair. She wore a dress of pastel green and yellow geometric shapes, all the rage among the younger Elit.

"Welcome cousin!" Trin'hale smiled broadly and gave Kikola a warm hug.

"You are looking well, Trin," said Kikola.

"And look at you, little Kiko – a full Aloyd now, First-Class no less." Trin'hale ran a hand up and down Kikola's arm. "The real uniform at last. It suits you."

"It feels good to finally wear it."

"You only had the trainee's uniform the last time I saw you. When was it? Five years ago? Maybe now you have finished training we can see each other a bit more often."

"I would like that," said Kikola with a smile.

"Kikola will be staying for dinner," Peltric said, "I have arranged for some fresh fish."

"Oh, good!" Trin'hale exclaimed.

"Well my dear, I have a few things to attend to before the Aloyd and I meet." Peltric kissed his wife on the cheek. "Kikola, you know where my office is. Come when you are ready."

The governor excused himself and left his wife and her cousin still standing at the front doorway.

"You must be chilled. Come inside and get yourself warm." Trin'hale completely disregarded Tehvay's presence as she led them into a bright sunlit room with a wall of windows offering a panoramic view over the sea.

An easel and canvas was set up in the corner.

Kikola immediately walked over to look at it. She was very impressed with the canvas; it captured the view from the window perfectly. From the grey-green of the land on the other side of the bay to the white tips of the waves on the dark blue, almost black, water.

"Very good," commented Kikola. "You have really captured the light reflecting off the waves perfectly."

"Thank you," her cousin replied.

"How is your portrait work nowadays?"

"I haven't done portraits in a long time. I found I am so much better at landscapes."

"Trin, your portraits may not have been all-time masterpieces, but you do yourself a disservice."

"Well, I have been wanting to paint Rufen, but I am afraid I am too out of practise to do him justice. Plus, he won't sit still long enough!" Trin'hale paused and her eyes took on a faraway look.

Kikola noted her cousin's look and put it down to Trin'hale reminiscing about all the times Kikola had sat for her cousin to sketch when she was a young girl. Those were simpler times, but that was over half her life time ago, and Kikola was focussed on her current role.

"What about you, Kiko? I know you won't be here long enough for a full portrait, but some sketches surely?"

"My regrets, but I must go and meet with Peltric, otherwise I would have been happy to sit for you. Perhaps my slave, Tehvay, could sit for you?"

"Well, uh…" Trin'hale showed her disappointment. "If you are sure." She looked over to Tehvay standing by the wall near the door. "Hmm, good bone structure. Interesting face. Yes, it could make a good subject."

Kikola was pleased. "Please treat it as you would one of your own slaves." She turned to her slave and said, "Tehvay, do as Trin'hale instructs."

With a final nod to her cousin, Kikola left to find the governor.


Tehvay watched Aloyd Karthen leave and suddenly felt lost. For the last nine days, the aloyd had been the only person Tehvay had seen. Being left alone with a total stranger felt like being dropped in the ocean and watching the life raft drift away.

"Sit over here in the sun. You can take that jacket off, it will be too warm with it on."

"Yes, T…La…" Tehvay stumbled over what to call her.

"Call me 'Ma'am'," said Trin'hale, understanding the slave's uncertainty.

"Yes, Ma'am." Tehvay took the borrowed jacket off and looked around for somewhere to put it.

"Put it on the back of that chair." Trin'hale pointed to a straight-back chair near a side table.

Tehvay did as she was told.

"Good. Now sit." Trin'hale gestured to a chair by the window.

Tehvay had never sat for a painting before. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do. So she put her hands on her legs, looked straight ahead, and sat very, very still.

"Relax," the governor's wife said. "Turn your face a little to your left. That's it."

Tehvay felt very self-conscious sitting there while Trin'hale scratched away on a pad with a graphite marker.

"Have you been with Aloyd Karthen long?"

"Ten days, Ma'am."

"Just lift your chin slightly." Trin'hale waved her marker at Tehvay. "There. Yes. Now hold still." Trin'hale continued to sketch. "How did you come to be in the service of Aloyd Karthen?"

"A gift, ma'am," Tehvay said without moving her lips.

"A gift?"

"Yes, ma'am. A graduation gift from her mother."

"I see. You must be of exceptional stock. My aunt would only want the best for her daughter."

Tehvay didn't move a muscle, but she wanted to laugh out loud. If the governor's wife only knew how Tehvay came to be the aloyd's personal slave, she might not be so impressed.


Kikola remembered her way around the residence very well, even though she had only been here once before for the marriage ceremony between her cousin and the governor. She walked to the opposite side of the mansion, and entered the governor's outer office. An aide stood up, offered a greeting, which the aloyd did not acknowledge, and showed her into the governor's inner office. Peltric was seated behind a massive desk talking into the comm panel. He was apparently having trouble with the connection and gestured for Kikola to have a seat.

"Atmospheric conditions," he explained. "Two comm satellites went out of commission yesterday."

"Did these subversives do that?"

He shook his head. "Solar flare. They should be functional by tomorrow." He turned his attention back to the comm panel.

Kikola, however, was drawn to the windows behind the governor's desk. Like the room in which Kikola had left Trin'hale sketching Tehvay, this part of the house also had expansive windows that offered a view of the inland side of the island. The top of the control tower at the shuttle pad was just visible, and beyond that a snow-capped mountain with dark clouds gathering behind it.

"Is that rain or snow?" she asked.

Peltric stood up and peered out of the window as well. "Probably snow, but it should stay on the south side of the island. We will be fine unless the wind changes."

Kikola turned her attention back to the governor who was busily working the terminal on his desk. "Ah! I have her!" he announced. He hit a button and a speaker crackled into life. "Agent, report."

"Nothing, sir. All leads were dead ends," a woman's voice drifted from the speaker. While the governor was capable of making and receiving holographic communications, the field agent's portable device was limited to voice only. "The apartment has been empty for two months. The last people to rent it were… Ornell and Aelar Astean – a professional couple from Alopan. Ornell works for Plancore Engineering and was here on a six-month contract; Aelar's a freelance coder. They are now back on Alopan."

"Agent, this is Aloyd Karthen." Kikola interjected. "How far back did you check these people out?"

"All the way back to school, sir. They're clean."

"What about their friends, work colleagues?" Kikola asked.

"They received no visitors from off world. The only friends they appeared to make were their neighbours. One of them is a senior executive in a private firm that was being investigated for fraud two years ago and is under part time surveillance from the local security force. As I stated, all leads were useless."

"Thank you, Agent." Peltric cut the connection. "What are we going to do next?"

"If they want support, then they'll need to get their message to more people. One day they'll get it to the wrong person and then we will have them."

"That could take a long time."

"Not if we force the issue."


"Instigate a curfew. Do random ID checks. Set up roadblocks. Make it difficult for people to get on and off world."

"That would play into their hands. We would become the very thing they despise and of which they are already falsely accusing us."

"And by doing so, more people will be susceptible to their propaganda," Kikola countered. "They'll become bolder and more visible. Once we expose and deal with the ringleaders then we can relax the sanctions, make reparations, offer tax breaks or something." Kikola could see Peltric mulling over what she said. "Think about it. We have a few days before we need to make a decision, but The Council will not wait forever."

"If, and I mean if we do as you suggest, I want the decision to come from a Council vote. I want a Council member to make the announcements. These are my people and if I am to live with them afterwards, I cannot have them see me as the instigator of these measures."

"Peltric, you are a member of an Elit family. The Quernals make no distinction between the Elit and The Council. If a Council member goes on a news broadcast and makes the announcement, it may as well have come from you as far as they are concerned."

"You have always had a very binary view of things. Black-white. Right-wrong. Us-them." The governor commented. "I hope that we can resolve this matter before it comes to taking those sort of measures."

"Resolving the situation and preserving The Hegemony is all that matters."

Peltric nodded slowly. "We still have a couple of hours until dinner. What would you like to do?"

"I—" Kikola's comm unit started beeping. "Excuse me," she said to Peltric and activated her comm. The military's portable comm units were fitted with holographic capability and a small replica of Captain Wurth's head and shoulders appeared over the device in her hand. "Go ahead, Captain."

"Aloyd Karthen, I've just received a weather update: a snowstorm is coming in from the south. A few flakes have already started falling here, and it is expected to get worse within the hour. I would advise leaving ASAP."

"How long is the storm expected to last?"

"Unsure. The wind direction shifted suddenly about twenty minutes ago and pushed the storm this way. It could change again, but I have no information on how likely that is. Based on the current situation the storm could last three or four hours."

"All right, Captain." Kikola replied. "Be ready to leave. I will return to the shuttle—"

"Nonsense," Peltric interrupted. "You would never get back to your shuttle in time. You must stay the night. I insist. Besides, I promised Trin'hale you would be having dinner with us."

"Are you sure it would not be an imposition?"

"Trin'hale would have my – uh…" Peltric looked down at his groin. "…if I allowed you to leave in a snowstorm. Stay. Your captain can make it ahead of the storm if he leaves now. He can come back for you in the morning, after breakfast. Besides, you haven't met Rufen yet."

"Change of plan, Captain. Return to the Sword immediately. Come back for me tomorrow."

"Yes, Aloyd. I'm leaving now. I'll be back for you tomorrow at 07:00 KST, 09:00 local."

"Good. Karthen out."

"So that's settled," said the governor. "I will see to the arrangements."


Kikola returned to the room where Trin'hale was sketching Tehvay. The sky outside was already beginning to darken, partly from the coming storm and partly from the setting sun.

A young boy sat on the floor at Trin'hale's feet playing with a toy space ship. Trin'hale scooped him up and carried him towards Kikola.

"Rufen Asto Lanaro ap Willenth – meet your cousin, Kikola Mariantha Jacand ap Karthen."

The boy smiled shyly.

Kikola took his hand and shook it. "Pleased to meet you, Rufen."

The three year old tugged his hand away and buried his head in his mother's shoulder. "He is shy around people he does not know."

Kikola patted the boy's shoulder, which got him to turn his head and look at her. "I know how you feel, Rufen," she confided. She bent down and picked up the toy space ship.

"I wish I had one of these when I was your age. How does it work?"

Rufen was happy to get down from his mother's arms and demonstrate.

After a few minutes Trin'hale interrupted the demonstration. "Well, young master Rufen, it is time for your bath and bed."

"Nooo," the boy protested.

"Marsak!" Trin'hale called and a young male slave came and took the child off his mother. "I will come and see you before you go to sleep," she said as the boy waved goodbye.

Kikola noticed Tehvay still sitting in a chair trying to hold her head up in an uncomfortable position.

"Has my slave behaved itself?" She wandered over to look at the sketch Trin'hale had made.

Kikola became lost in thought as she examined the pencil sketch. Trin'hale had captured Tehvay's features perfectly: the gentleness of her eyes, the delicate strands of her hair, the fullness of her lips. She reached out and traced a line on the cheek. She suddenly realised what she was doing and dropped her hand to her side.

"Yes," answered Trin'hale. "It's been no trouble." She looked out of the window. "The light is going, so I think I will stop."

"That will be all, Tehvay," said Kikola.

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen." Tehvay relaxed her posture before standing up.

"Your portrait work has improved, Trin. You should really try and do some more." Kikola's eyes fell back to studying the sketch. "I wish I could draw like that."

A puzzled frown crossed Trin'hale's face. "What a strange thing to say!"

"What is?"

"You wishing you could draw." Trin'hale went over to her worktable and started putting her drawing instruments away. "You are a soldier."

"I can wish, can I not?"

"What is the point of wishing? It only leads to discontent over what one cannot have, and discontentment leads to anarchy. Our society thrives by having balance. We need artists and soldiers; we need musicians and scientists. What would happen if everyone did what they wished? It would be chaos! If everyone decided they wished to be an artist, then who would be our business leaders, our politicians, our judges, our scientists, our soldiers? The Hegemony would crumble without each of us having our defined role."

Trin'hale's words deeply resonated with Kikola. She believed those words. She had been taught those concepts from the time she was suckling at her mother's breast. They made up the very fibre of the Elit, the very fibre of The Hegemony, the very fibre of her being. Yet, there was a very tiny something, hidden somewhere inside Kikola, that screamed she was wrong.

"I didn't mean to suggest that I wanted to turn my back on my role. I merely expressed a desire that in my free time I could learn to draw or paint."

"I know you have a deep appreciation of art, Kiko - there is nothing wrong in that - but let us hear no more of these ridiculous desires."

Trin'hale held out her hand and Kikola relinquished the sketch of Tehvay.

"I… you are right. It's a strange thing to say. Forget I even mentioned it."

Trin'hale smiled. "Already forgotten."

"Peltric has invited me to stay overnight," said Kikola, changing the subject. "There is a powerful storm coming up from the south."

As if on cue a flurry of snow started falling outside the window, and the room's lights came on automatically as the light level fell.

Trin'hale could hardly contain her delight in hearing that she would have more time with her cousin. "You may have the guestroom on the second floor – first door on your right. Lovely view. There is no adjoining cell for your slave I am afraid." Trin'hale turned to Tehvay. "The slave quarters are in the basement. You'll see the door on the left of the staircase."

"Thank you, Ma'am." Tehvay looked towards her owner for confirmation.

"That won't be necessary," Kikola countered. "My slave, I mean. It can stay in my room."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. It can sleep on the floor."

"As you wish."

Trin'hale looked a little surprised, but not as surprised as Kikola felt. She had no idea why she said such a thing.


Tehvay was suspicious. Her owner had been more than generous so far, even getting a softer mattress and pillow for her bunk on board the Conqueror , but after a lifetime of sexual abuse at the hands of her previous owners, Tehvay did not for one moment believe she would be sleeping on the floor.

Tehvay had stayed in the guest suite while the aloyd dined downstairs with her relatives. As promised, a meal of fresh fish was delivered to the room. Despite her apprehensions about staying with her owner, Tehvay thoroughly enjoyed the fresh caught fish she had for her evening meal. It far surpassed anything she had eaten aboard the Conqueror . In fact, even in her years of freedom, Tehvay could not remember having had a finer meal.

She was just clearing away her tray when the door opened and her owner returned. Tehvay immediately stopped what she was doing, turned around, and stared at the floor. Though it had been more than nine days since she had been returned to servitude, Tehvay could not help feeling a deep sense of resentment and shame at such submissive behaviour: behaviour that wasn't just second nature to her, but her raison d'etre.

The aloyd came into the room and saw the empty food tray in Tehvay's hands. "Did you enjoy your meal?" she enquired.

"Yes. It was delicious. Thank you, Aloyd Karthen."

"Good. I promised you would have some real fish. I don't like to break my promises," the aloyd said cordially.

"No, Aloyd Karthen…I mean… I appreciate the effort you made. The fish really was delicious."

"Captain Wurth will be back to pick us up in the morning, so it's time for bed," her owner announced abruptly.

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen," Tehvay replied. "Shall I help you undress this evening?"


Wait, did she just say 'yes'? Normally she doesn't want my help . "Yes, Aloyd Karthen?"

"Yes, you may undress me."

Tehvay's slave conditioning kicked in and she jumped to the task of removing the aloyd's tight-fitting uniform: first the jacket, next the boots, then the trousers. I guess it was only a matter of time, she thought with some disappointment.

As Tehvay was removing the aloyd's undergarments, she was aware of a subtle change in her owner's breathing and muscle tautness. A feeling of dread clutched at Tehvay's chest. She was all too familiar with these almost imperceptible yet unmistakeable signs of arousal. She fought to control the shaking in her hands and the tears that wanted to fall.

Nothing was said as the two moved away from each other: Aloyd Karthen towards the bed and Tehvay towards the door of the bedroom.

"I know I told my cousin that you would sleep on the floor," said the aloyd as she slipped under the covers. "But it's cold and this bed is more than big enough…"

Here it comes, thought Tehvay. She felt a weight of apprehension. She had hoped this owner would be different.

"So, you may have that side."

"This side?" Tehvay pointed to the currently unoccupied side nearest the window.

"Well, yes. I am on this side." With that, the aloyd dimmed the lights and turned over on her right side towards the centre of the bedroom.

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen."

Tehvay resigned herself to her fate and got undressed. She recalled that the aloyd had said she would never abuse her, but that's what her previous owners had said at some point, before the inevitable happened. Though back then Tehvay did not realise it was abuse; it was only after gaining her freedom that she learned what they had done, or made her do, was wrong – even criminal.

Tehvay slowly folded her blue uniform and put it on a nearby stool. Still the aloyd did not stir. Tehvay carefully pulled back the covers, and still her owner did not move. It surprised Tehvay. The aloyd had not even attempted a casual look at her the whole time Tehvay was undressing.

Tehvay warily settled down at the very edge of the very large bed, and turned her back to her owner. She lay there not moving a muscle, hoping that her owner would forget about her and fall asleep, waiting for the touch or the command. But it never came. Just as she started to fall asleep, Tehvay sensed a rhythmic movement on the other side of the bed and could hear her owner's breathing quicken. She could tolerate the waiting no longer and decided to pre-empt the command.

"Do you wish me to service you, Aloyd Karthen?"

"What?" The response was sharp.

"Service you, Aloyd Karthen." Tehvay felt the shame burn her cheeks. She checked her emotions before continuing. "Isn't that why you have me sharing the bed?"

"What do you mean, 'service'?"

Tehvay slowly turned to face her owner. In the dim light she could see that there appeared to be genuine confusion on the aloyd's face. "Sex. Do you want oral or—"

"What are you talking about? I… do not… Did I not tell you I would never do that to you?"

Now Tehvay was the one who looked confused. She was sure she had interpreted the signs correctly. "Many apologies, Aloyd."

"We will say no more of this," said Aloyd Karthen.

"As you command."

They both settled down with their backs to each other. It was a long time before either fell asleep.



Praemonet City, like most other cities on Gatlor, was sealed and protected from the frigid climate. Some cities had domes constructed almost entirely of transparent polymers to maximise the amount of natural sunlight, others, like Praemonet, were built into naturally occurring depressions to insulate its citizens from the harshest weather and maximise its temperature-control efficiency.

Lele Yalt, a fifteen-year-old girl with light brown hair and large, dark brown eyes, examined her pale complexion in the image reflector in the hallway. Her complexion came from a vitamin D deficiency caused by lack of natural sunlight. Lights provided street illumination, but Praemonet was an old city and was not fitted with the latest sunlight simulator. Some of the more affluent social castes could afford to holiday on another planet and get a natural dose, or have a solar room in their house, but for most, particularly Praemonetites of the Labror caste, they had to make do with a daily vitamin D supplement. This gave them the essential vitamin, but did not remove the pallid complexion of long-term indoor living.

Lele hefted a satchel onto her shoulder and checked the time. "I'm off out," she called to her parents. "Got to rush, bye!"

She ran down the street just in time to catch the transport that would take her into Praemonet city centre. She sat down heavily on the seat, settled the bag on her lap, and looked out of the window. The sealed city was not a beautiful place by any stretch of the imagination. Rubbish and grime accumulated despite the best efforts to keep it down. Street lighting was intermittent in places and the trees and plants brought in to brighten the place up looked stunted and grey without natural light.

The transport stopped and she brightened when she saw Seinat get on. The sixteen-year old boy sat down next to her and he gave Lela a kiss.

"Have you got it?" he asked.

She patted her bag in response.

He smiled. "You are a star." He kissed her again.

Ten minutes later they disembarked outside the main market area. "Ready?" she asked.

"Yes. You?"


"Then let's do it!"

They entered the market and took the lift up to the third floor. They exited the lift, walked to the balcony, and looked down on the market, and its shoppers, ten metres below. Lele let the bag she had been carrying slip from her shoulder and onto the floor. They both reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of leaflets. Paper was an old fashioned means of spreading the word, but it was effective. Filters on personal communication devices blocked unwanted messages, and hacking broadcasts was proving to be difficult. A piece of paper with a permanent message on it could not be blocked or switched off.

They started running, throwing the paper over the balcony. By the time the first leaflets reached the ground, they were halfway along. They paused to get more leaflets out of the bag.

"Quick," said Seinat. "Security."

Lele looked up, saw Seinat looking behind her and turned her head. A guard was just coming out of the lift. Her heart started pounding harder.

They dumped their leaflets over the balcony in one go, sprinted away from the guard, and darted into the nearest stairwell. As the heavy fire door closed behind them, the boy and girl giggled from sheer adrenalin.

"Do you think he saw us?" Lele asked

"Nah, the lights on the upper levels are too dim," Seinat replied confidently.

"What about the cameras?"

"Don't worry. Those cameras haven't worked for ages."

Relieved, Lele relaxed against the wall. Seinat took this as an invitation and leaned towards her. He pressed his lips to hers and Lele was all too happy to return his advances.

Confident they had given the Security officer the slip, the two adolescents exited the stairwell on the ground floor, laughing like the schoolchildren they were. Their laughter died when they turned around to leave and found themselves being confronted by a female military officer of high rank, flanked by two armed soldiers.

"Arrest them!"

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen," replied one of the soldiers.

Before they could protest or run away, Lele and Seinat were pushed to the floor, their hands cuffed behind their backs, and then roughly hoisted to their feet.

Lele was terrified, but the more street-wise Seinat demanded to know why they were being arrested. The aloyd stepped up to them holding one of the leaflets with which they had showered the market. That was when Lele knew they were in serious trouble.

"Bring them," the aloyd commanded.

She marched away and the soldiers pushed their prisoners to get them moving.

"Where are you taking us?" asked Lele.

"Shut up and move," the soldier behind her growled and gave her another shove in the back.

They were ushered into an administration office in the market and the aloyd ordered the staff out. When Lele and Seinat were seated, she closed the door and turned to face them.

"Why have you arrested us? What are the charges?" Seinat challenged the military officer, trying to put on a brave show in front of Lele.

"Treason," the aloyd said calmly, "and don't bother to deny it." She held up the pamphlet. "From whom did you get this leaflet?"

"Don't have to tell you!" said Lele defiantly.

Lele heard the echoing sound of an IPB discharge but couldn't tell what direction it was coming from. Instinctively, she looked to see if her boyfriend was okay. She couldn't quite understand why he was slumped over. Even when she registered the blackened mark on his forehead and blood trickling from his ear and mouth, she didn't understand. "Seinat?"

A menacingly calm voice from behind her whispered, "Now, have I got your attention? I want to know who gave you the leaflets."

The fear and disbelief of the situation had paralysed Lele, closing off her throat so she couldn't speak.

The officer came around to face the young woman. She sat on the edge of the desk and held her weapon, still glowing from being fired, across her lap. Emotionlessly, she posed the question again. "From whom did you get this leaflet?"

"Um… a teacher… in school… Mister Brans… history teacher."

"Thank you."

Lele didn't hear the second IPB discharge.


Kikola had acted on information provided by the Governor's agent about the planned leaflet drop at the market. Armed with that information, she had been able to catch the young rebels in the act. Now it was time to go after the organisers and crush this dissention before it gained any foothold.

She contacted the Crusade and ordered Captain Eadmon and a squad of striker soldiers to join her at an address in a well-to-do Quernal suburb. It was the home of the teacher the female leaflet thrower had identified – one Henrick Brans, a thirty-eight year old male who taught political science and history at Praemonet East Secondary School, according to the information Kikola received from Peltric's agent.

"Captain, I want you to take a team to the rear of the house and cut off any escape route, while I lead a team into the house from the front."

"Yes, sir," said Eadmon. "How many are we expecting inside?"

"Our source says there are four people residing at this address, including two small children. However, two other adult males were seen entering shortly before you arrived."

"What are our orders?"

"Prisoners are not necessary, but if any are captured alive, they can be interrogated before execution. Check for files and computer records. Have anything sent to the Sword ."

"And the children?"

"Collateral damage."

"Understood." Captain Eadmon divided the squad into two teams and moved off with her team towards the rear of the house. Kikola waited until Eadmon's team was in place before giving her team the order to move. Kikola led the sprint across the street. When she gave the signal, two members of her team used a ram to break down the door and another tossed in a concussion charge. There was some return of fire but within a few minutes everything fell quiet.

As the rest of her team searched upstairs, Kikola entered the house and discovered four bodies on the lounge floor.

"Beta Team, come in," Kikola announced into her comm.

Eadmon's voice crackled. "This is Beta Team, sir. We have captured two adult males who tried to flee from the rear of the house."

"Good, Captain. I will be along to interrogate them shortly. Karthen out."

Kikola continued pacing around the room, past the bodies of a female and two children, who were huddled behind a sofa. Then something caught her eye. The body of the male was moving. She bent down and looked into the bloodied face of the man she presumed to be Henrick Brans. "You have failed," she said quietly and put the man out of his misery.

Kikola stood up and looked past the carnage – taking a moment to look around at the room itself. The walls were painted the same colour blue as a slave's uniform, and that brought Tehvay to mind.

Kikola recalled the incident the previous night at her cousin's home. It had been a spontaneous decision to allow Tehvay to share her bed, and on reflection Kikola could not find a reason for it. Kikola recalled feeling very warm and her breath quickening when she felt the slave settle on the other side of the bed. And when Tehvay had offered to 'service' her, it was a big shock for the aloyd: not because the slave was offering herself, but because Kikola had almost said 'yes'.

Why am I thinking of Tehvay? She is not here. I must focus on the mission hand, Kikola wondered. She dismissed thoughts of her slave and headed towards Beta team to interrogate the prisoners.


It had been two days since Kamina had discovered how Hila had procured the bracelet, and nothing more was said about it. For two nights, Kamina silently brooded in her bunk trying to sort out why she had reacted so harshly to Hila's gift. Is it the fact that the gift is second-hand, or is it the fact that Hila had traded sexual favours to obtain it? Kamina didn't know, but one thing she did know was that she had felt embarrassed and reacted like an ungrateful wretch. I'm surprised she didn't drop me off at the next port!

Kamina wanted more than anything to apologise for her behaviour, but she didn't know how to broach the subject with Hila who was everything to her: mentor, boss…and friend. Kamina felt a connection to Hila that she had never felt for anyone else – a connection that was born from gratitude and admiration for the older woman who had taken Kamina in after her adoptive parents were killed.

She gave me a home and a job, and how do I repay her? By throwing her gift back in her face. With a sigh, Kamina hauled herself off the bunk, got dressed, and went off in search of Hila.

She found the freighter captain seated at the table in the galley pouring over the ship's schematics.

"Hey," said Hila with a smile.

Kamina returned the smile. "Are you busy? I could come back."

"Not that busy. Did you need something?"

Kamina took a breath for courage. "I—I just wanted to say I'm sorry for the way I acted the other night."

It didn't immediately register with Hila, and she returned Kamina's apology with a blank look.

"The bracelet," Kamina offered.

"No need to apologise. I didn't stop to consider… you know." Hila paused briefly. "Hungry?" she asked, changing the subject. "I was just about to grab something before going to tinker with the engine. The ion flow is drifting out of alignment again. I need to go and give it a whack."

"Yeah," said Kamina. "Need someone to hold your tools while you whack?"

Hila laughed and waggled her eyebrows.

At first, Kamina didn't get it, but then she realised the double meaning and giggled.

"So, what do you want?" Hila asked in a slightly suggestive tone.

Kamina didn't know how to respond to what seemed like Hila making a pass at her. "I—uh, what do you mean?"

"I mean food."

Of course she did , Kamina silently chided herself. "What are you offering?" she asked.

"I was going to make myself a sandwich. There's enough fresh bread left for you as well. Want one?"


"Sit down, I'll make you the best sandwich this side of the Spur."


Trengos was an average planet in a binary star system. While its location in the Graelands was one of the more desirable locations, it was still the Graelands. Close to the major trade route, it was less prone to attack, but not immune. Like most other planets in the region, a single government did not control Trengos. Four large countries spanned its continents. They had long ago reached a peaceful way to coexist with each other, but lacked any mutual defence strategy against raids.

The largest country, with the largest city and largest spaceport was Dansek. Winter was having one last grip on the city and a light dusting of snow covered the buildings. Yuniph Veilan loved snow, but she was not in a joyous mood. She put the report back on the desk. It detailed a raid by slavers in an outlying district. The numbers were irrelevant. People were dead and missing. She looked over at her partner Rikana Lardis.

Six years ago Rikana's parents had been killed in a raid. The young woman stood with her back to Yuniph, staring out of the window. Yuniph knew Rikana was battling with her emotions, but also knew trying to talk to her about it would get her nowhere.

Yuniph knew of slavery's horrors from her parents. They had been slaves in The Kalenth Hegemony, but they were also two of the very few fortunate ones to be granted freedom. They had left The Hegemony and settled on Trengos.

"This is the closest they've hit to Dansek in ages," said Rikana. She still kept her back to Yuniph. "I wish they'd hit right here, right in the city. I'd show those bastards what it's like to face someone who can fight back."

Yuniph understood the anger, but could not condone it. She knew that Rikana was a good person, like Yuniph, she wanted to bring bad people to justice, but whereas Yuniph followed the rules to the letter, Rikana was more than willing to bend the meaning of 'reasonable force' if she felt someone deserved it. For the most part Yuniph could control her with a gentle reminder, but she often wondered whether she could stop Rikana with words if they ever caught a slaver.

"This is the third raid in eight months, they're getting more frequent. It was the same ship as the one a few months ago," continued Rikana. "The same class of ship owned by that Llyte woman on Argos station."

"It's not her," said Yuniph. "We checked with the security on Argos, and they vouched for her. They said her trading in the Graelands never went beyond Inosa, and that she did most of her work within The Hegemony."

"Maybe it's not her, but she's a wrong one, I know it." She finally turned around to face Yuniph. "Why is it we only seem to get leads on the petty criminals? Someone out there must know who these slavers are!"

"Unfortunately, it's not us."

"Fortunate for them!"


"I know what you're going to say, Veilan, so save it, okay," Rikana sighed. "We can do fuck-all about the raid, so what is there that we can do fuck about?"

Yuniph allowed the epithets to go without saying anything. "Someone out in the Helmron estate reported rubbish being dumped in their garden from the road."

"Wonderful," said Rikana. "Come on then," she headed for the door, adjusting her IPB on her hip. "Maybe I can get to shoot someone to brighten my day up."


Tehvay and Aloyd Karthen had barely returned to the Conqueror before the aloyd was called away. Since they had spent the previous night on the planet there was nothing for Tehvay to do. It gave her the luxury of some free time.

The downside to free time was that it gave Tehvay time to think. She thought, with some discomfort, about how she offered herself to the aloyd. A good slave anticipated their owner's wishes. Though the more sadistic owners took pleasure in punishing a slave for being presumptuous. She knew the aloyd was aroused when Tehvay removed her clothes. The refusal of her offer came with some relief to Tehvay.

She remembered the time shortly after being taken by Boran, of offering herself to him. He had turned her down, telling her that it was wrong that she had been made to do it in the past. However a lifetime of conditioning was hard to break. After Marleen, Boran's associate, had shown her some kindness, she offered herself to the woman. Again she was turned down.

Was the reason for Aloyd Karthen's rebuff the same as Boran's and Marleen's refusal? she wondered. Boran and Marleen had become her friends, her equals. Does she think of me as her equal? Or at least that I shouldn't be made to do that? Tehvay dismissed her thoughts and settled down in her cell to read.

Several hours later Tehvay heard her owner returning. She put down the book reader and rushed out of her cell to see if she was needed. Aloyd Karthen glanced at her briefly before making her way into her bedroom. Tehvay followed.

"How was your day, Aloyd?"

Aloyd Karthen paused before speaking. "Productive. The matter I was sent here for has been resolved." She undid her jacket and Tehvay helped her remove it.

Tehvay took the metal and carbon weave jacket, and hung it in the closet. As she turned back to her owner, Tehvay saw the aloyd massaging her neck.

"Is something wrong?" asked Tehvay.

"Just a little stiff."

"Sit on the bed," Tehvay directed.

The aloyd sat on the edge of the bed. Tehvay climbed up and knelt behind her. She slowly pushed the straps of the aloyd's sleeveless undershirt off the aloyd's shoulders.

Tehvay felt Aloyd Karthen stiffen as her hands touched her owner's neck. After a few moments of kneading however, the aloyd's muscles relaxed a little.

"Have you done this before?" asked the aloyd.

Tehvay smiled wryly to herself. "Yes, Aloyd Karthen."

After a few minutes Karthen said, "It feels better, thank you."

Tehvay paused. "Do you wish me to stop now?"

"No! I mean, just a little longer, just to make sure."

"As you wish, Aloyd." At the base of the aloyd's neck was a small scar. Tehvay had noticed it before and had been curious about it. Sensing that her owner was relaxed, she gave voice to her curiosity. "What's this scar? If you don't mind me asking?" Tehvay felt the aloyd shiver as she lightly traced the scar at the back of her owner's neck.

"An implant. It helps strengthen my muscles. It makes wearing the heavy uniform easier."

"I see. I wondered how you managed, because you don't look that strong. I mean you're slight and toned, not built like a tank." Tehvay removed her finger from the scar. "You could get that scar removed," she observed as she continued massaging the aloyd's neck and shoulders.

"Why? I cannot see it and no one else can see it."

Tehvay was lost in admiring the physique under her fingers; her right hand stroked the aloyd's upper right arm. She jumped slightly as Aloyd Karthen's left hand moved quickly to grab her right hand and lift it away from her arm. She fully expected to feel pain, but her owner held her hand gently. She looked down and saw the aloyd studying their joined hands.

As suddenly as she had grabbed it, Aloyd Karthen let her hand go.

"That will be all. You may go to your cell. I will see you in the morning."

Tehvay waited until the heat from her owner's touch faded before replying. "Yes, Aloyd Karthen."


Kikola was up and on the bridge of the Conqueror by 05:30. She had been awakened by a communique from Command informing her to send the Sword and Crusade to Otopa in the Dameb system. Kikola herself was to report to Command on Kalenth to give a personal debrief, as required by all aloyds after their first mission. She settled back in her chair and surveyed her surroundings.

The cramped bridge had space enough for four people: pilot, navigator, captain, and Kikola herself. The main viewscreen at the fore of the bridge was displaying a forward facing vid-feed of the Sword's secondary hangar and a glimpse of space beyond the open door. Flashing lights in the hangar warned of the imminent departure of her ship.

The signal of an incoming communication attracted Kikola's attention. She activated the viewscreen by the side of her chair, and Commodore Heln's face appeared.

"Aloyd Karthen, safe journey."

"Thank you, Commodore. You have your orders to proceed to Otopa as soon as we are clear."

"Yes, Aloyd. We will rendezvous with you in the Dameb system." Heln hesitated. "Do you know what our mission is?"

"No," replied Kikola. "I will be informed when I arrive there."

Heln nodded. "Do you think—"

"We do not speculate, Commodore," she cut him off. "We follow orders."

"Yes, Aloyd. I will see you in the Dameb system."

"Good. Karthen out." Kikola turned off the viewscreen.

A few seconds later departure clearance came from the Sword's bridge and Captain Wurth cast a glance at Kikola. She gave a brief nod.

"Helm, proceed," said Wurth.

The helm officer's hands flashed over the console in front of him and the Conqueror rose up from the hangar floor and headed towards the black rectangle of open space. Kikola could feel a slight rumble through her seat and felt a small sway. As the ship passed out of the Sword's artificial gravity field, and its own took over, Kikola's stomach gave a slight turn. It was over briefly and the swaying sensation of moving against the larger ship's gravity disappeared.

"Navigation, plot course for Kalenth," said Wurth.

"Course plotted," came the immediate reply.


The stars on the view screen started moving rapidly.

"Jumping to light speed," announced the pilot.

Kikola felt the slightest of kicks as the ship broke the light barrier and the view of the white star field switched suddenly to a fuzzy blue ball at the centre of the screen.

"Captain, I will be in my quarters," Kikola left the bridge and returned to her private deck. As she entered, she found her slave standing in the central corridor.

"We're moving," said Tehvay.

Kikola sensed that the slave was fishing for details of their destination, but chose to ignore her. "Yes," said Kikola. "Is that my drink?" she asked pointing to the glass in her slave's hand.

The slave looked down at the remains of Kikola breakfast nutrient drink. "Yes, Aloyd. I thought you had finished."

Kikola beckoned to take it, and Tehvay handed it to her.

"Where are we going?" asked Tehvay.

Kikola smiled to herself at the slave's forthright question after her first attempt to elicit information failed. "Back to Kalenth. I have to attend a debrief with the head of Military Operations."

"What were you doing on Gatlor? You never mentioned."

It was not usual for a slave to question its owner; it was considered impertinent. However, Kikola was not concerned that the questions from Tehvay were inappropriate, she wanted to know what prompted them. It must be difficult for her to be stuck here and not know what's going on. She decided to answer the slave. "I had to kill some people," said Kikola calmly.

"Oh!" It sounded as if that wasn't the answer Tehvay expected. "Sorry, it must've been awful for you."

"No, why?"

"Killing someone can't be easy."

"I told you, I had to do it. It was my duty. There's nothing difficult about doing one's duty."

"What do you mean 'had to'?" asked Tehvay. "What had these people done?"

"They were spreading lies and sedition," Kikola replied." Treason is a serious crime. I had orders to stop it, and that is what I did."

"If these people were breaking the law then they should've been arrested and faced a trial. Why did you execute them?"

"My remit allowed it."

Kikola could see what looked like sadness flash across Tehvay's features.

Why would Tehvay be so affected by the deaths of people she didn't even know? Kikola began to feel an emotion she could not name. It did not feel good; she did not want to be the cause of upsetting her slave.

"I am sorry," said Kikola.


"Yes. I have upset you; that was not my intention."

Now Tehvay looked confused. "You're more worried about what I feel than the fact you took someone's life?"

"They were guilty of treason. It was my duty to stop them. It is not my duty to upset you." She stepped closer to Tehvay. "You… are…" The conversation was already beyond what would be considered appropriate, but Kikola didn't care. "You have…I…need…" I need someone to help me, guide me. "Someone I can talk to." Someone to take me by the hand, like the child I feel I am, and guide me. Would you do that for me?

She reacted without thinking and leaned in closer. As her lips made contact with Tehvay's she closed her eyes. The slave's lips were soft and pliant. She felt like she was falling and raised a hand to Tehvay's arm to steady herself. Then she was floating. Arms encircled her and laid her gently on the bed. Tehvay's hands pulled off her uniform and soft lips trailed down her torso. She whimpered as a tongue flickered over her sex…

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen," Tehvay said.

Kikola opened her eyes. "Sorry, I… sorry. I… I…sorry," she stammered.


They were standing in the bedroom, fully clothed. Kikola still held the remnants of her nutrient drink. "That will be all. Return to your cell."

Tehvay nodded and walked away. Kikola watched her go.


They were half way to Kalenth and the days seemed to drag for both of them. There was only so much time Aloyd Karthen could spend on the bridge and only so much time Tehvay could spend on her duties.

During her freedom, Tehvay had developed a tendency to fill pauses in conversation with a quip or a question. Once she discovered that it was permitted, she did it a lot. Now she was back in slavery she struggled to rein that trait back in.

The slave noticed her owner was just picking at little bits of the meal and not eating very much.

"Is something wrong with it?" Tehvay asked.

The aloyd looked at Tehvay as though she had been caught doing something illicit and looked back at her plate. "No. I am just not very hungry."

Tehvay lifted a forkful of grey matter off her plate. "For dispenser food, this is really good." For a moment Tehvay forgot herself. "Just wish they could make it look better instead of all grey and sludgy." She said the last bit in a low, sing-song voice and dropped the food back on to the plate with a splat. Realising that she may have overstepped a mark, she looked at the aloyd, ready to apologise, but was surprised to see a smile on her owner's face and hear a little chuckle.

"I guess it doesn't look very appetising," said the aloyd.

"No," agreed Tehvay. "That meal on Gatlor was delicious and looked good, too."

"Did you enjoy your excursion to the surface of Gatlor?"

Other than the awkward situation that occurred at bedtime, which neither of them mentioned, it had been as good as it could have been for Tehvay. "Yes. Your cousin was nice. It was also good to get some fresh air after being stuck in here for all those days."

"I… I have some business to attend on Kalenth, but after that is concluded, I will have time to visit my home. I will take you along. There is one of the monthly parties being held."

"Monthly parties?"

"Yes. With so many birthdays, anniversaries and such, they are grouped together and a joint celebration is held. I believe this is only a small one. My aunt and uncle are celebrating their wedding anniversary and my mother is celebrating the anniversary of taking up her judicial post. Would you like to visit my home?"

To be given a choice as a slave was unthinkable. Tehvay considered saying 'no' just to see what the aloyd would do, but the lure of fresh air was too great, besides, Tehvay was genuinely curious to see where Aloyd Karthen grew up.

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen. If that is what you want."

"It is. I would like to take you." The aloyd appeared hesitant for a moment, then said, "I will see that you get some food that is not 'grey and sludgy'."

Tehvay watched as the aloyd dipped her head after speaking, but could still see a shy smile on her face. Inside, she allowed herself to smile . This is turning out to be not as bad as I thought it would.

The internal smile faded. I am still her property.



Hila stared out of the cockpit window at Kalenth. The planet hadn't changed much – at least not from orbit – in the years since she had last visited. The capital planet of The Hegemony was not a place a freighter captain, who bends the rules on occasion, tends to frequent.

But she was here for a good reason: money.

Money and information that will hopefully give Boran a lead on Tehvay's whereabouts.

"Ident and landing permit confirmed," the voice on the comm announced.

"Thank you," said Kamina brightly.

Kamina liked talking to people, so Hila was more than happy to let her handle the comm.

"Please hold station and wait for clearance to land."

"How long?"


"How long do you think we'll have to wait?"

"I don't know. I've passed your request to traffic control. They'll contact you when they have a corridor for you."

"Okay. What's your name?"

"Err… what? My name?" the man sounded confused.

"Yes, I'm Kamina."

"Um… hi. I'm Stenin. I really—"

"Nice to meet you, Stenin. Have you been doing this job long?"

"A while. Look, I really can't talk. I have other ships requesting landing permission."

"Oh sorry, mustn't get you into trouble. Bye, Stenin."

"Yes, bye… Kamina."

The comm fell silent.

"He sounded nice," said Hila. "You should call him back and ask him out on a date."

Kamina turned in her chair to look at Hila. "No thanks. He's probably got a face like a baboon's arse."

"You're transmitting," Hila nodded at the comm panel.

A horrified expression flashed across Kamina's face and she turned to the panel. "Oh, no!" Kamina checked the comm settings. "No, I'm not!"

Hila smirked.


Suddenly, the comm burst to life causing Kamina to jump.

"This is Area Four Traffic Control to freighter Glyndwr . Your landing corridor has been assigned. The vector is being transmitted to your navigation computer. Ensure the flight-path is programmed correctly before commencing your descent. Deviation from the assigned path will result in countermeasures being deployed against you. Enjoy your stay."

"Will do. Thanks," replied Kamina.

Hila turned her attention to the navigation computer and hit a button. "Strap in, we're going down."

The ship gave a slight lurch. Soon after, the planet got very large outside the window. Streaks of plasma flew past observation windows as the freighter hit the planet's outer atmosphere, and the ship began to shudder and creak.

"I hate this bit," moaned Kamina.

Hila looked at her and smiled. "It's not this bit you need to worry about."

"I know, it's the contact with the ground that will kill us."

After a while the plasma stopped and a dark blue sky filled the window. It gradually became lighter and a few clouds started flitting by.

Suddenly the ship violently rocked. "Hold on," said Hila. "Turbulence." The seasoned freighter captain disengaged the autopilot and held tight to the steering controls trying to keep the ship on course.

"Thanks for the advanced warning," Kamina replied as she held tight to the arms of her seat.

"No problem. I wouldn't want you to lose your lunch all over my cockpit."

The two rode out the turbulence as their ship descended to a lower altitude where the crosswinds weren't as unpredictable. Mindful of the warning issued by the control tower not to deviate from the assigned flight-path, Hila made the necessary manual adjustments to maintain the course they were given.

The Glyndwr continued a controlled descent. When it reached the lower atmosphere below the cloud base, Hila expected to see the lights of the spaceport just below; instead a rainstorm made visibility difficult, so there was no relaxing – not until the ship's landing gear deployed and they touched down safely.

"Local time will be 22:14 when we land," said Hila. "Too late to do anything by the time we clear customs."

"That's okay," Kamina replied. "After this landing, I want an early night anyway."


For the second time within a month Kikola found herself in the office of the Council Member for Military Operations. Only this time it was just the two of them. The last time Kikola was in this office, it was to receive her commission and her first assignment. Having completed that assignment, Kikola was back on Kalenth to report on its success.

The office was large and starkly decorated in a monochromatic colour scheme of dark greys and black, the preferred colours in the Civic and among the military. Kikola approached the woman seated behind the imposing desk that dominated the room. She presented her written report to Ambra ap Lentol and stood at attention.

Ambra scanned the report, and then looked up at the Aloyd, First-Class and smiled. ""It all seems straightforward. No issues. Have a seat and tell me, in your own words, how you think your first assignment went."

Kikola sat stiffly in the chair and gave a verbal account of her mission on Gatlor with detached efficiency.

"Well done, Aloyd Karthen.

"Thank you, Councillor Lentol," replied Kikola. "May I speak freely?"

"You may."

"It was an easy mission. I don't mean to sound… What I mean is that it hardly warranted the response of an aloyd and striker group. It was just a small group of subversives."

"True. But a trickle of water can become a raging torrent if left unchecked, and we wanted to send a message that dissention, of any kind, will not be tolerated."

"Yes, Councillor."

"Don't worry. There will be bigger, more important missions for you." Ambra put the written report in her desk's centre drawer. "You might not have to wait too long either." Ambra handed the aloyd a data chip. "Here's some background information on your next assignment"

Kikola took the data chip and secured it in her jacket pocket without further comment.

"Are you not curious as to why you are going to Otopa?" asked Ambra.

"I was told the mission details would be revealed on arrival, Councillor."

Ambra chuckled quietly. "You are well trained, Aloyd Karthen. Obedient and loyal."

Like a slave , thought Kikola. "Thank you, Councillor Lentol."

Ambra's smile widened. "Look at us! 'Aloyd Karthen' and 'Councillor Lentol'! It doesn't seem that long ago when we were kids calling each other 'Kikola' and 'Ambra'." The smile faded. "I miss those times," she added sadly.

Kikola shrugged her shoulders. "Time passes," she said.

"It does. But that does not mean we can't rekindle our friendship."

Friendship? Our families knew each other and we spent some time together. Kikola refrained from voicing her take on the relationship.

"I have a place in the city – a penthouse apartment. Beautiful view, especially this time of night with all lights. Why don't you come back with me, Kikola? Have a drink. Talk about old times. Talk about new times!"

"I am unable to at this time. I have to take a shuttle to the family estate very early. I will need to get some sleep."

"Another infamous Karthen party?" asked Ambra.

"A small gathering," said Kikola.

"Another time, perhaps."

"Perhaps." Kikola stood up. "If that is all, Councillor?"

Ambra came around her desk and gently took hold of Kikola's elbow as she walked Kikola to the door.

"Good night, Aloyd. And good luck on the mission."

"Thank you."

Kikola walked away from the councillor's office thinking back to her childhood and the few times she and Ambra had occasion to spend time together. It didn't elicit any particularly good memories, or bad. She turned her mind to the upcoming party and visiting her home with Tehvay. For some reason that made her stomach flutter.


The female customs officer walked slowly around the cargo bay double and triple checking the crates against the shipping manifest. Hila casually leaned up against one of the crates while waiting for the customs officer to complete her inspection. The freighter captain was in no particular rush for the woman to finish. She was enjoying the view – watching the tall, slender blonde-haired woman in the tight-fitting, dark blue jumpsuit bending over to read the shipping labels on the bottom crates.

The officer's name was Nemeru. Hila had been surprised to see her on Kalenth. She'd had dealings with Officer Nemeru on Shibato in the past and knew the officer was open to the odd bribe.

Officer Nemeru became aware of Hila's gaze and turned around to address the captain of the Glyndwr .

"Okay, what are you hiding, Llyte?" she asked.

"Nothing. This is all legit."

"Oh? Since when?"

"This trip is strictly above board. I'm not stupid enough to try and bring illicit goods to Kalenth."

"Shame," Nemeru said coyly. "I transferred here a few months ago. The pay more than makes up for the lack of bribes, but your bribes were always a little bit… special."

Hila knew what Nemeru was hinting at, and she had nothing better to do until morning. "This is in no way a bribe, but we could call it – 'for old time's sake'. When do you finish your shift?"

"In fifteen minutes," the customs officer replied hopefully.

"Okay, then come back here in twenty minutes."

"What about your young crew member?"

"Kami? What about her?"

"Kami, you say." Nemeru mused aloud. "Pretty name. Pretty girl."

"Yes, on both counts," Hila replied.

"I don't suppose she would be willing to join us in a threesome?"

"No!" Hila vehemently rejected the suggestion.

The blonde woman blanched at Hila's outburst. "I'm sorry. You want her all to yourself. I can understand that. She is cute, but I didn't think she would be your type."

"It's not like that." Hila told the customs officer. "Kami is sweet, feisty, and bold – too good for the likes of me." There was a hint of disappointment in the way Hila said it that gave her pause. Hila hadn't thought of Kami as 'pretty' before – at least not in that way, not as an object of desire. Why would she think Kami and I were involved? Did Nemeru fancy Kami? Hila didn't like wearing that thought.


Hila musings ended. "I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"So are we on?" asked Nemeru. "Just the two of us, I mean," she added.

Hila shook off her thoughts of Kami and focussed her thoughts instead towards a night of unbridled sex with the very willing and desirable security officer. The usually aloof freighter captain allowed a smile. "Of course."

A smile returned to the blonde woman's face. "Great! I will see you back here in twenty."

"Ahem." Hila pointed at the shipping order still held by the customs officer. Nemeru quickly placed her tag on the form and handed it back to Hila.

Hila allowed her fingers to slowly glide over the contours of Nemeru's hand before taking the touch screen device from her. She could sense the woman's pulse quicken. Hila was very practised in the art of seduction – both male and female – though she preferred females as sex partners. Women were more adventuresome and sensual, and much more willing to give as good as they get.

"Thanks. Don't be late. The customer will be here at 07:00 to collect their goods. I'd like to get some sleep before then."

"Don't worry, I'll wake you up on time." The officer winked.




Kamina suffered a sleepless night in her bunk. Her stomach was all tied up in knots, and not just from the effects of mild motion sickness from the landing. She had to listen to the sounds of Hila 'entertaining' someone all night. The bulkhead between their two bunkrooms was not thick enough to dampen the muffled sounds of female voices, giggling and moaning for hours. Just when Kamina thought they were through for the night, the moaning and giggling would start up again. If there were such a place as Hell, thought Kamina, this is it.

It was after 04:30 when all became quiet in Hila's room. By then, Kamina was frustrated, annoyed, and hungry. Desperate not to wake up Hila and the tart she had in bed with her, Kamina quietly got up out of her bunk, put on an old, faded black jumper and trousers, and stealthily closed the door behind her. She turned right and padded down the hallway towards the galley.

Kamina programmed the food dispenser to make her a warm drink. She needed something to help settle her stomach before the workday began. She took her drink to the cockpit where she could enjoy the Kalenth sunrise, which lit up the gathering rain clouds a vivid red.

She didn't know how long the stop on Kalenth was going to be, but as far as Kamina was concerned, she couldn't wait to get off this planet. The sooner Hila concluded the business that brought them to The Hegemony's founding planet, the sooner they could leave, and then she wouldn't have to share Hila with anyone else.

Kamina's ruminations came to an end as the clouds finally got thick enough to obscure the sun. She headed for the galley, only to see Hila's guest enter the lounge at the same time as she did. By the uniform, she could tell the woman was a customs officer, and in fact looked vaguely familiar.

"Oh, good morning… Kami, right?"

"Kamina," she corrected the woman tersely.

"Kamina. I'm Nemeru. Sorry to disturb. I was just leaving."

"Don't let me stop you," Kamina said dismissively.

Nemeru must have sensed the hostility coming from the younger woman and gave Kamina a cordial smile. "You are one lucky girl."

Kamina folded her arms. "Lucky… that's a laugh."

"Yes, lucky because Hila really cares about you. Me… well, it's just a physical thing, I know that. But you… I've never known her to be enamoured with anyone before. So don't be jealous. If anyone should be jealous, it's me."

Kamina was confounded by what the customs officer was saying to her. Kamina dropped her arms. "Hila isn't 'enamoured' with me. I'm just the stray she felt sorry for… the hired help." Kamina turned away, lest the security officer saw her tear up in frustration.

"Oh dear. You mean the two of you aren't… she hasn't."

"No," Kamina could not hold back the tears.

Nemeru shook her head. "What a pair the two of you make. Well, let me give you some advice. Hila is a 'now' person. She doesn't think about the past or the future. Right now she's into you, but doesn't know it. So if I were you, I'd go and jump in her bed right away, because this time tomorrow she may not want to know it."

Kamina said nothing and kept her back turned.

After a few moments the officer spoke again. "Well, that's my advice. See you around."

Once Kamina was sure that Nemeru was gone, she ran back to her bunk.


Several thousand kilometres away from where Kamina was watching the dawn, the Karthen estate was baking in afternoon sunshine. It was an oasis in the desert. The immaculate green lawn stood out in stark contrast from the light golden sands that surrounded it for several hundred square kilometres. The house at the centre was white, a square with rounded towers at the four corners and a central courtyard dominated by an ornamental pond and fountain.

As the shuttle circled overhead in preparation of landing, Tehvay looked down in wonder. "You grew up here?"


"I've never seen anything like it. It's beautiful. You are so jammy."


"Lucky," Tehvay replied.

Kikola had never considered herself fortunate to grow up here. It was too hot outside, too cold in the air-conditioned interior, and the sand from the surrounding desert found its way into everything.

"I always prefer our third holiday residence. The climate is much more agreeable."

"Third holiday residence? How many do you have?"

"Seven – on Kalenth. The family has several more on other planets."

Kikola landed the shuttle with the barest of jolts.

"Forgive me for saying so, but that's obscene."

Kikola pondered her words for a moment. "You might be right. Growing up, I knew no different, because every other family I knew was the same."

The door to the shuttle opened and the heat blasted in from outside.

"Whoa!" Tehvay gasped. "I think my insides just melted."

Kikola suppressed a giggle, but could do nothing about the smile that curled her lips. "You get used it."

Kikola stepped out and Tehvay followed at a respectful distance.

Halfway from the shuttle pad to the house Kikola noticed two figures walking towards them. One, holding a parasol to shade the other, wore the pale blue uniform of the slave, the other, her mother, wore a simple, but elegant white, thigh length dress. The elder Karthen smiled. "Kikola, I am so glad you could take time to join us this evening."

"It was fortunate that I was on Kalenth for a debrief."

"But you cannot wear that to the party," Kikola's mother tugged at the sleeve of Kikola's uniform. "When we get to the house, go to your room and put something more appropriate on."

"Yes, mother."

"I see you have brought your slave. How is it working out?"

"It is performing well."

Kikola's mother filled her in on the latest family news as they walked to the house. On entering the house an icy blast hit them. Kikola paused at the foot of a large staircase and turned to her mother. She noticed Tehvay shivering.

"May I have a hot drink?" Kikola asked.

Mariantha ordered the slave with the parasol to have a hot beverage immediately brought to her daughter. When the drink was served, Kikola took a sip and then passed it to Tehvay to hold; this way Tehvay could at least warm her hands.

"I will go to my room and change."

"Don't be too long, dear."

Kikola headed up the huge staircase and Tehvay followed.

"You must need a map to get around here," Tehvay whispered loudly as they turned yet another corner. "How can there be this many corners in a house? House! 'Palace' is a better description."

"Shh," Kikola silenced Tehvay as the aloyd heard voices coming from the far end of a very long corridor.

Standing almost directly across from her bedroom door were two people – a teenage boy and girl who Kikola recognised as cousins – and a young male slave. The slave had his back pressed to the wall and his trousers around his ankles. He looked close to tears.

"Sorenen, what's going on?" Kikola addressed the fifteen-year-old boy sharply. She positioned herself between the slave and her cousins. "Pull them up," she instructed the slave before turning her attention to her relatives.

"Mina had never seen a naked man before, so I thought I would show her."

The thirteen-year-old girl smiled shyly and blushed.

Sorenen leered at Tehvay and said, "I have never seen a naked woman; maybe your slave could—"

Before he could finish the sentence, Kikola had pinned him to the wall by his throat. Kikola glared at the terrified young man trying to calm her own anger. Mina was paralyzed with fear and would not stop whimpering.

"We are Elit," she said through gritted teeth to the both of them. "We have the responsibility of the entire Hegemony in our hands. We must set a good example, and that does not mean we treat the nude form as something lewd and base. And though slaves may be the lowest caste, we Elit do not use our power and position to abuse them. We treat them respectfully. Do you understand, Sorenen?"

He nodded the best that he could, and Kikola released her grip.

Kikola regarded at the girl sternly. "Mina?"

"Yes," the girl acknowledged through the sniffling.

"Now apologise."

Sorenen rubbed his neck and looked as though he was about to protest, but thought better of it. He turned to the slave and said, "You have my apologies."

"Now both of you – be on your way. And rest assured that I will inform your parents of your transgressions."

Sorenen and a tearful Mina ran off. Kikola turned her attention to the embarrassed slave who was adjusting the fit of his blue trousers. "Are you all right?" The aloyd asked the male slave. She glanced at Tehvay, who stood next to the male slave offering a supportive hand on his shoulder. The question was meant for her as well.

"Yes, Mistress."

"Have they done anything like that before?"

"No, Mistress."

"Carry on with your duties."

"Thank you, Mistress." The slave bowed his head to Kikola and walked away.

Kikola turned to Tehvay. "I apologise for my cousin's behaviour. Sorenen will not soon forget this lesson."




The aloyd's bedroom was sparsely decorated. Tehvay thought that there was no personality to it: more barracks room than bedroom. The only thing adorning the walls was a single painting of a young girl resembling Aloyd Karthen. "Is this the portrait your cousin, Trin'hale, painted of you as a child?" she asked.

"Yes," the aloyd remarked simply.

Tehvay examined it more closely. She was amazed at how severe the young girl in the painting looked.

Tehvay glanced at her owner and saw nothing in the image of the young Aloyd Karthen that hinted at the striking dark-haired woman she had grown up to be.

After helping her owner remove her boots, Tehvay went straight to the wardrobe to store them, and found a black dress hanging up inside. In fact it was the only dress hanging up inside. As she reached in, Tehvay noticed a garment hanging up that seemed out of place in an adult's bedroom closet. "What is that?" Tehvay enquired. "May I?"

Aloyd Karthen obliged and pulled it off the rack for Tehvay to examine. It was a replica aloyd uniform made of a soft fabric. It was exactly like the real thing right down to the gold thread around the collar, only it was made for a child. "Was this yours?"

"Yes," said the aloyd. "My father had it made for me just before he…left."


"Left? Where did he go?"


"He's dead. He was on a diplomatic mission and his ship went missing in the Graelands."


Tehvay felt a twinge of empathy for the child who had lost her father so young. Tehvay never knew her parents, never had a family to call her own. How sad for both of us , she thought.


Aloyd Karthen took the black dress that was hanging in her wardrobe and tossed it on the bed. The aloyd started unfastening the top closure on her uniform jacket.


"Allow me." Tehvay took over from the aloyd and finished unfastening the jacket.


The aloyd shrugged the jacket off her shoulders and Tehvay pulled it off the rest of the way.


"That was a nice thing you did before," said Tehvay, as she reached for a clothes hanger from the wardrobe.


"What did I do?"

"You stopped those children from humiliating that young male slave." Tehvay was met with her owner's trousers when she was finished hanging up the jacket.

"I told you the Elit do not mistreat their slaves," the aloyd replied.

The blonde slave draped the trousers over her arm. "Maybe some do and you just don't know about it. Maybe there are good slave owners out there and I've just been unlucky until now."

"You consider yourself lucky to be my slave?"

"Well, being a slave is not so great, but as owners go, I've not had better."

Aloyd Karthen turned her head away.

Is she embarrassed by my compliment? thought Tehvay.

Tehvay wanted to fill the silence, but she thought it was better to say nothing more. So she proceeded to fold the uniform trousers and placed them neatly in one of the wardrobe drawers.

When Tehvay straightened up and turned around, her owner was right behind her. Their eyes met, and this time the aloyd did not look away.

"I wish things could have been different for you," the aloyd said. "That you were never a slave."

Tehvay recognised Aloyd Karthen's sincerity, as if she really felt compassion for Tehvay, maybe even cared. Tehvay wanted to reach out and give Aloyd Karthen a grateful hug, but she was afraid – afraid that such a gesture would be rejected by the aloyd and all the progress they had made would be destroyed.

"I want you to stay here while I attend the party tonight," said the Elit woman.

"Have I displeased you?"

"No, not at all. It's just that I…" She paused. "It's a family function. There will be household slaves to do the serving."

Tehvay looked at the aloyd standing in her underwear, wondering if her forwardness had cost her the freedoms Aloyd Karthen had allowed her. "But it is my job to attend you."

"You'd be… You would be treated as any other slave," said her owner, "and…" She paused; a concerned frown creased her brow. "…and that would bother me greatly."

There was another moment of awkward silence, with neither knowing just what to say. So Tehvay took the dress the aloyd was to wear to the party and held it up.

"Shall I help you into the dress, Aloyd Karthen?"

"No, I can manage… but thank you." Aloyd Karthen slipped the dress over her head and it slid down her body like liquid.

Tehvay had never seen her owner in anything other than a uniform, or naked. The thigh-length, tight-fitting black dress showed off the aloyd's lithe, toned figure in a way Tehvay had never appreciated before.

"Wow, you look amazing!" Tehvay exclaimed, quite forgetting herself. "Oh, Aloyd Karthen, please forgive… I didn't mean…I…"

The aloyd did not appear concerned by the compliment. In fact, she smiled, as if welcoming it. Tehvay liked to see her owner smile. She did it so rarely.

"Well, I must be going," said the aloyd. "I at least have to make an appearance, so I will be gone for a few hours. There is a vid player in there if you get bored." She pointed to the wardrobe.

When Aloyd Karthen was gone, Tehvay took the opportunity to look for the vid player. As she retrieved it from the drawer, Tehvay thought about the day she and Aloyd Karthen had met – how severe and unemotional she seemed then – a far cry from the woman in the black dress who didn't want to suffer Tehvay being treated like any other slave, and who didn't want Tehvay to be bored while she was at the party.

Tehvay powered up the player and selected the first programme in the menu. It was an historical drama set in the early days of The Hegemony. The story followed the exploits of a woman struggling to start a colony on a newly found world and her battles with the Elit assigned to be governor. There was conflict between the two, but as time went on they forged an understanding of each other's position and developed a strong friendship.

Tehvay closed her eyes and found herself transported into the film. She was playing the part of the woman and Aloyd Karthen was the governor. Only in her version their relationship did not stop at just friendship; it went deeper.

She opened eyes – confused for a moment as to where she was, disappointed because her dream seemed so real. It's no good dreaming, Tehvay, she inwardly admonished herself. You were born a slave and that is your lot. Don't dream of a life you can never have.




The party was being held in the main reception hall. It was an intimate gathering by Karthen standards: two hundred and fifty guests who were either related to the Karthen Family or her mother's judicial associates. Even though Kikola loved her family and enjoyed seeing them, she was not looking forward to attending the party. She never felt at ease in social situations, despite her mother's best efforts. Kikola had always found small talk difficult. Again she thought of Tehvay's gift for small talk and how much more comfortable Kikola felt talking with Tehvay.

Kikola avoided making a grand entrance, picked up a drink, spoke to a few members of the family, and then found a quiet spot near the grand piano, an ancient instrument that had been in her mother's family for generations. Kikola had never bothered to learn how to play it; she was destined for the Military and saw no point. Her uncle Gramolin was a composer and would most likely regale everyone with a performance on it later. I should ask Tehvay if she likes music, Kikola thought. She caught sight of her cousins, Sorenen and Mina. They noticed their older cousin and disappeared among the other guests.

Kikola had her back turned to the throng and was looking at a grouping of family portraits, when her mother came up beside her.

"Kikola, you should be mingling with our guests. There are relatives and friends here that have not seen you for years," Mariantha reminded her daughter.

"Apologies, Mother. I have spoken to a few. I have offered my congratulations to Uncle Gramolin and Aunt Amosa. However, I am not in a social mood."

"No. You have always been a solitary girl. Even at parties you would find somewhere to hide and leave early. I thought now that you have graduated, you would come out of your shell a bit."

"I know. It's just that… I have been feeling… odd."

"Odd? Do you mean ill?"

"Yes. No. I am not certain. Maybe."

"Have you seen a doctor?"

"I saw the doctor on the Sword ."

"And?" Mariantha pressed.

"He found nothing wrong. His only suggestion was that it might be a reaction to the diproxaline. The dosage might be incorrect."

"Doctor Mantell prescribed them to you; he never makes a mistake."

"I know."

"Then we will go see him in the morning. He is around here somewhere." Her mother scanned the crowd. "I will go tell him to expect you right after breakfast."

"Thank you, Mother. If you will excuse me, I am going to go to my room. I leave for Otopa tomorrow, so I need an early night if I am to see Doctor Mantell in the morning."

Before leaving Kikola picked up a plate and filled it with some of the food from the buffet. She recalled promising Tehvay some food and did not like to break a promise.


When the bedroom door opened it startled Tehvay. She recovered quickly, jumped to her feet, and stood against the wall.

"Don't stand there," said Aloyd Karthen softly. "Come. I have some food for you."

The aloyd entered carrying a large plate, piled with food. She walked to the bed, sat on the edge, and put the plate down.

"Sit, help yourself." The aloyd directed Tehvay to sit on the bed on the other side of the plate from her. "I promised you some food that is not grey and sludgy."

"Thank you, Aloyd Karthen," said Tehvay as she sat down. She reached out and picked up a morsel. She had no idea what it was, but it was real, so she popped it into her mouth. "Mmm, that's delicious," she said as she chewed.

The aloyd chuckled and stood up, Tehvay picked something else to eat. As she reached for her third treat a hand holding a glass of water appeared in front of her. "Aloyd! I'm sorry. I should be waiting on you. Forgive—"

"Tehvay! Just take the glass and enjoy the food."

"Thank you, Aloyd Karthen."

Tehvay took the offered drink and had a sip before choosing another delicacy on offer. Aloyd Karthen sat down on the bed and sipped her own glass of water.

Before long the plate was empty. Tehvay had consumed most of it; Aloyd Karthen had taken a few morsels.

"I should clear this away at least," said Tehvay, picking up the plate and standing. "Let me take your glass."

"Just put them on the side table," said the aloyd.

Tehvay did as instructed. As she turned to face her owner, she realised that sleeping arrangements had not been discussed. The bed in the aloyd's room was a lot smaller than the bed on Gatlor. If they were to share it, they would be uncomfortably close. Tehvay felt that she could broach the subject without reproach.

"Aloyd Kar—" she was interrupted by a knock at the door.


A slave entered holding a pile of bedclothes. "Mistress Kikola, I have brought the bedding for the slave cell."

"Very good, you may proceed."

"Thank you, Mistress." The slaved nodded his head in acknowledgment of the command and hurried to an adjoining room. A few minutes later he emerged. "Will that be all?"

"You may take those dirty glasses and plate."

"Yes, Mistress."

When the door closed behind him Aloyd Karthen turned to Tehvay. "You wished to speak?"

"I was only going to ask where you wanted me to sleep, but now I know."

"There is a spare blanket in my closet, take that in case you feel cold in the night."

"Thank you, Aloyd. Do you require me to undress—"

"No! That will be all. Good night, Tehvay."

Tehvay grabbed the spare blanket from the closet and went to the adjoining slave cell. The room was small and windowless. And cold. As she settled down under the layers of blankets she found herself wishing for the heat of another body beside her.


The rain that had threatened the spaceport in the morning had continued unabated all day. The rainstorm brought the overall temperature down to just slightly below comfortable, making the planet's capital city a cold and dreary place. The locked doorway in which Hila and Kamina were sheltering offered some respite, but the occasional gust blew some rain into their bolthole. Kamina shivered and squeezed closer to Hila, putting herself between her friend and the door.

It would have suited Hila to take off as soon as the cargo she had transported was unloaded, but she had one other piece of business to conduct before they could leave Kalenth. And this appointment had to take place under the cover of darkness.

"Couldn't you meet your contact on the ship?" Kamina griped.

"I thought you used to sleep rough."

"Polen is a sealed, climate controlled city. It's a balmy twenty-four degrees at all times. I guess they don't want the homeless freezing to death on the streets: think of the paperwork!"

"You should have put on a thicker jacket."

"I didn't know it was going to be this chilly. You could have told me before we left the ship."

"Yes, I guess I should have suggested you wear trousers. Sorry."

The alleyway in which they were waiting was just off a main thoroughfare. Hila couldn't see the traffic, but could see the lights from the vehicles reflected off the walls, and the hiss of their tyres on the wet roadway, as they passed. Even on this cold, wet night it was still relatively busy. She could even hear the footsteps and voices of pedestrians.

A jab in her back caused Hila to take a half step forward as she felt Kamina wriggle in further behind her. The warmth of the young woman's body easily penetrated her coat causing distracting thoughts that at any other time would be most welcome. She felt the younger woman's hand slip into her jacket pockets and took a deep breath. Behave! she warned herself.

"You didn't have to come," said Hila.

"And miss all the fun."

"This isn't meant to be fun."

"Then what is it? Why are we standing here, freezing?"

"I told you, I have to meet someone."


"It's not—What are you doing?"

Kamina sighed. "I'm trying to tickle you."


"To get you to lighten up a bit. Maybe smile. And I'm bored."

"Stop it. I really should have made you stay on the ship."

"Don't you want me around?" Kamina sounded hurt.

"Yes," said Hila. "Of course. It's just I don't want you around when you might get hurt."

"People get hurt all the time. I found that out the hard way."

"Then maybe it's time for a change. Wouldn't you like to live somewhere safe and warm?"

"Sure. But you're a spacer and the only warm place is next to the engines of your ship. And here," Kamina added and snuggled closer.

"This job I'm doing will pay big, big enough that I don't have to keep hauling my arse all over the galaxy. There are some lovely tropical islands on this planet, surrounded by warm shallow seas that you can go swimming in all year round. Beautiful place," Hila said wistfully.

"Yeah? How do you know? You go there on holidays do you?" Kamina teased.

"No. I, um, like to know about the planets I visit."

"Well, I'd like to see a bit more of the galaxy before I settle down. Nice though those islands sound."

Suddenly, two figures appeared out of the dark alleyway – a man and a woman. Hila immediately sensed trouble.

"Well, well, well," said the man, stepping forward. "This looks cosy."

"Get lost," said Hila, keeping her voice level.

"Ah, well, I could do that, only then I'd have to go back to my boss and tell him you were wasting his time."

"Who is your boss?"

The man winced. "Now, you know the rules: no names mentioned in public. It wouldn't do to break the rules now, would it?"

"What's the code word?"

The man laughed and turned to his friend. "We have a right comedian here! 'Code word', she said! Do you know any code word?"

His comrade sniggered, and he turned back to Hila.

"You know there ain't no code word. Now stop jerking me off and come with us. We don't bite." He sized Hila up. "But that wouldn't matter to you, would it? You'd probably have us dead in the gutter with the rain washing our blood away faster than we could blink if we tried anything, I reckon."

"You got that right!" Kamina chipped in, moving to Hila's side.

The man grinned, stepped to one side, extended an arm and gave an exaggerated bow. "If you ladies would be so kind as to follow my esteemed colleague," he said, attempting to imitate an Elit accent.

Hila put a protective arm around Kamina's shoulder and stepped out into the rain. The woman set off and Hila and Kamina followed, with the man bringing up the rear.

At the end of the alleyway was a vehicle. The woman opened a door and climbed in. Hila let Kamina climb in first and followed her closely. The man climbed in and shut the door behind him. The compartment had four seats. The woman gestured that Hila and Kamina take the seats facing rearward. The man signalled the driver and the vehicle moved off.

"Is there any heating in this thing?" asked Kamina.

The woman, who was sitting opposite her touched a control on the arm of her seat. Warm air immediately rose up from vents under the seats.

"Thanks. I don't suppose there are any drinks stashed around here?"

The woman touched another control and a drawer popped out between the seats Hila and Kamina were occupying.

"Excellent!" Kamina reached into the drawer and pulled out a bottle. "Want one?" She offered the bottle to Hila.

Hila shook her head. Kamina shrugged, opened the bottle and took a swig.

"Wow! This is certainly not the cheap stuff." She reached into the drawer, pulled another bottle out and put it in her jacket pocket.

The drawer was shut before she could take another.

After about twenty minutes, the vehicle slowed, passed through a set of tall, ornate gates and into a brightly lit tunnel. Hila guessed this was the Bramaleen district – a stronghold for the Fethusal with pretensions of being Elit. Large luxuriant houses were set inside a gated parkland with a network of underground roads, so as not to spoil the environment for those privileged to live there.

They turned into a side tunnel that opened out into a large garage. Several other vehicles occupied the area. The vehicle stopped, the door opened, and they were beckoned out. Hila once again put a protective arm around Kamina as they followed the man into a maglev lift. The woman punched a code into the control panel and lift quickly started to rise. After a short time, the lift slowed and started to move sideways. It came to a halt, the woman punched in another code, and they were disgorged into a large, expensively furnished room.

Hila laughed to herself at the pretentiousness in the décor. The owner was definitely a Fethusal with more money than sense. Then she caught sight of him: a tall man with greying blonde hair, sitting in a chair sipping a drink. Despite the lack of formal occasion, he wore an expensive tailored suit with all the fineries and fripperies that money could buy.

Hila didn't wait for any introductions and walked towards him. "Have you got it?"

"Yes," replied the man.

"I sense a 'but'," said Hila.

The man half smiled and took another sip of his drink before putting it down on the table next to the chair. He stood up and removed a data chip from his pocket. "I took the liberty of reading it and I am most pleased that I did, because the price has just gone up."

"We agreed, twenty-five."

"Now I want more."

"How much?"

"Th—Four times."

"You were going to say 'three', so that will be my top offer."

The man bowed his head slightly conceding the point. "And it will be the lowest I will accept. Do we have a new agreement?"

"I don't have that much money. I'll need to contact my employer."

"By all means."

Hila walked to the side of the room and fished a comm unit from her jacket. "Kami!" She beckoned her friend.

"Kamina," came the automatic response.

"Don't steal anything," she whispered. Kamina opened her mouth to protest, but Hila continued. "Stay where I can see you and keep your hands in your pockets." Hila pressed some buttons on the comm while keeping an eye on the pouting teenager. She smiled and winked just before her call was answered.


"Hila. Have you got it?"

"He's upped his price."

"How much?"

"He wanted four times," she said, pointedly looking at the blonde haired man. "I got him down to three. Do you want me to physically beat him down to a lower price?"

She sensed his thugs become alert, but the man himself remained unmoved by the threat.

"No. I'll transfer the money. Just a sec." There was a pause. "Done."

"I'll call you later when I've got it back to the ship," she replied.

"Okay. Speak to you later. Bye."

Hila killed the connection. She pulled a cred chip from a pocket and plugged it into the comm. A single bleep indicated the funds had been transferred to the chip. She pulled it out and approached the man.

"Seventy-five thousand," she said and handed it to him.

He took the chip between two fingers and examined it.

"It doesn't bite," said Hila.

"You'll forgive me if I am a little bit cautious."

Hila smiled at his tone. This one thought he was superior to her and was doing everything to show it: from the sending of lackeys to collect her, ensuring that they met in this opulent room, to the way he spoke in condescending tones, trying to sound Elit.

She held out a hand. "The data chip."

The man inserted the cred chip into his comm unit and after a couple of seconds he nodded, satisfied that the money was safe in his account. He placed the data chip on the table, picked up his drink and stepped away.

Hila knew that she might have deal with him in future, so she let him take the money. However, she knew more about him than he realised and decided to take him down a peg or two.

"Money might give you the position, but it won't give you the pedigree. I know that twenty five years ago you were giving blow jobs in back alleys. You found out you could blackmail certain clients and manoeuvred yourself into a comfortable job where your knees don't hurt. But you still know whose cock likes to be sucked."

Hila picked up the chip.


The cockpit lights made a pretty, colourful constellation around Hila, but she was not concentrating on their beauty at this time. She plugged the data chip into the console and read the contents . No wonder he upped his price, she thought.

She pulled out her comm unit. "Boran."

"What does it say, Hila?"

"The judge was Mariantha ap Karthen. In her summing up she said that because Tehvay was not responsible for her previous owner's death and not responsible for her subsequent emancipation, she decided on leniency and returned Tehvay to slavery."

Boran breathed a sigh of relief. "So we need to track down her new owner and get her back. Buy her back, if necessary."

"Not as easy as that. And this is why the price went up."

"What is it?"

"Appended to the court report are the details of a request for ownership to the Slave Registration Board. Judge Karthen paid a fee to purchase her—"

"Shit!" interjected Boran.

"Yes," agreed Hila. "But there's more. The judge paid for Tehvay, but transferred ownership to her daughter, Kikola ap Karthen. Aloyd Kikola ap Karthen."

"An aloyd?" Boran's tone was one of disbelief.

"Yes. Trying to get her from an Elit would be suicide at best. But an aloyd who is going to be surrounded by hundreds of soldiers and who knows where in the galaxy…"

There was a long pause. "I want her back, whatever the cost. If you want to cease in this endeavour, I'll understand."

"I'm not quitting," Hila replied without hesitation. "It will just take a bit longer than anticipated."

"Thank you, Hila. But are you sure you know what you're getting in to?" asked Zerbilla.

"Well, I do now. And I'm still your best bet to see this through. I will see if I can find out where Karthen is posted."

"I always knew you were a good one."

"Don't give me that bullshit," said Hila. "We both know I am in it for the money… a lot more money."

"Deal," he replied and laughed. He became serious again. "Any window of opportunity will be very small, so it would be a good idea to have someone Tehvay knows with you. Come and pick me up."

"Are you sure? If I don't manage this, you'll need to be around to get someone else to do it."

"Hila, you said yourself you're the best for this. If you can't do it, there is no one else."

After the connection was ended Hila turned around and looked at Kamina who was standing in the doorway to the cockpit. "It looks like we're going back to Shibato," Hila said. "When we get there I want you to stay there."


"This situation has just got very dangerous. You'll be safer there."

"What is it with you worrying about my safety all the time? I can look after myself."

"Kami, we could very well be facing squads of heavily armed soldiers who will shoot at us when their commanding officer realises we're running away with her slave."

"You don't know that. This aloyd may just shrug her shoulders and go, 'Meh, I'll buy a new one.'"

"Somehow I doubt that. But whatever she does, I don't want the possibility of you getting killed. Besides, Boran is coming with me, there's only two sleeping quarters on the ship."

"I don't mind sharing."

"Kami! You can't share with Boran."

"No, I mean with you. You got big enough quarters."

"There's only one bed."

"And? It's not like you've never shared it before."

Hila was stunned into silence.

"Sorry," said Kamina. "I didn't mean it to sound…"

"Kami. I'm not trying to get rid of you because I don't want you around. And I'm not leaving you on Shibato because I think you can't handle yourself. I care about you and don't want to see you hurt. That's all."

"Yeah!" Kamina raised her voice. "And I care about you and don't want to see you hurt!" She jabbed an accusing finger at Hila. "But if you're going off somewhere and there's a chance you might not come bac—" Kamina's voice caught in her throat. "Then I want to be there. I don't want to be left on my own. Even if it means I don't come back, I want to be with you."

Hila looked at Kamina. Tears were streaming down the young woman's face. Kamina swatted an angry hand at them to wipe them away and smeared a bubble of snot over her cheek.

Even wet and daubed with mucus she was still the most beautiful thing Hila had ever seen. She rushed to her and held her to her chest. "It's okay," she whispered soothingly. "It's okay," she repeated the phrase over and over until Kamina broke the embrace and took a step back. "Where did that come from?"

Kamina sniffed. "I was always on my own growing up. No family. Then Jarrel and Mirdo took me in after I got attacked, and all of a sudden I had a family. It was nice. And you're part of that family. Now they're gone and you're all I have." She broke down into fresh sobs.

"Oh, Kami, come here." She pulled the younger woman to her and held her tight until the sobs subsided. She held Kamina's face in her hands and looked her straight in the eye. "I'm not leaving you. I'm not leaving you on Shibato. I'm not leaving you on your own in any way whatsoever."

"Thank you," she croaked. Kamina reached up and planted a sweet kiss of gratitude on Hila's lips.

Hila felt an unmistakable spark of desire when their lips met and a wave of conflicting emotions when their lips parted. What just happened? thought Hila.




Like all Elit households the Karthen's had a state of the art diagnostic and treatment room and a family physician. They also had one of the best practitioners in The Hegemony, Doctor Mantell. Though he may be a brilliant doctor, Kikola had always found his bedside manner to be lacking.

"Any drug I dispense is always correct," Mantell stated bluntly. "Diproxaline suppresses the libido and only has side effects when an incorrect dosage is taken. Those side effects are insomnia and a burning sensation when you eat. I don't know where this Doctor Catilol got his accreditation from, but your trouble sleeping and a loss of appetite are not the result of the diproxaline that I prescribed."

"Then what is wrong with me?" asked Kikola.

"Nothing. At least Catilol got that right when he examined you! You are in perfect health. Of course I only deal with the physical side, there could be a psychological reason," he stated without sentiment. "I will send you to a colleague—"

"That won't be necessary. Aloyd's are required to have a psychological examination before commencing their duties. There was no problem."

"Well, then this was a complete waste of my time – unless you want another prescription of diproxaline while you are here."

Kikola nodded.

"I will have them ready for you in thirty minutes. That is all."

Kikola said nothing in return and left the doctor's office. Her mother was waiting in the hallway outside and approached her with a questioning look.

"What did he say?"

"He said I am fine."

"Just fine?"

"He suggested it might be psychological."

"But aloyd's are—"

"I told him that."

"Kiko," Mariantha spoke gently and rested a hand on her daughter's arm. "Just because you take the diproxaline does not mean you don't need company."

"Company? What do you mean?"

"Diproxaline suppresses the libido, but it cannot stop you feeling… affection for someone. It would be perfectly fine for you to have a friend… a companion. Someone with whom you want to spend time."

There was someone like that in her life. How does she know? Kikola thought. Suddenly, Kikola felt exposed, vulnerable, and betrayed by her body.

"I…" Kikola trailed off. She dare not admit it to herself let alone her mother. "There is someone," the aloyd heard herself say.

"Then don't worry about it," Mariantha replied. "Spend time with him. Enjoy each other's company, and I am sure whatever symptoms you have will go away."

Kikola was about to agree with her mother, anything to end the conversation she didn't want to be having, but her mother continued.

"I take it he's an officer. A senior officer I hope. You should bring him home so that I can meet him."

"There is no 'him'. There is no man with whom I wish to spend time." The aloyd waited for her mother to deduce what she was implying and anticipated an angry response. There was none.

"Your great-aunt Balin was an astrophysicist, and like you did not want a husband and children to get in the way of her career. She had a companion for many years – someone with whom she could share life's pleasures."

There was a tone in her mother's voice that Kikola found strange, as if she were trying to say something without saying it.

"Balin's companion was a woman," said Mariantha. "I know that in Elit society, it is officially taboo. However, as long as they are of good Fethusal stock, it is… overlooked shall we say."

Kikola was stunned by what her mother was saying.

"As long as you are discreet, Kiko," her mother explained. "That you don't parade it in public as though it were something… normal, then it can be overlooked by the family."

Kikola was awed that her mother had seen right into her soul and set off a detonation of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, Kikola was relieved to learn that her symptoms might be down to her developing feelings for Tehvay. On the other hand, Kikola was troubled to learn there was no way a relationship, however discreet, would be tolerated if the woman in question were known.

"Kiko," Mariantha said, "is there someone?"

"There is a woman with whom I like spending time. Maybe I am developing romantic feelings for her."

"Then you must bring your 'friend' home one day soon," said Mariantha. "I would like to meet the woman who has managed to capture my daughter's heart."

You have already met her, Mother , Kikola thought. She gave a quick, single nod, then headed back to her bedroom.



Having left Kalenth, the Conqueror was streaking towards a rendezvous with its striker group in the Dameb system. Since leaving Gatlor the days on board the Conqueror for Tehvay and her owner had fallen into a comfortable pattern. Tehvay felt none of the awkwardness at being asked to sit with the aloyd and watch a vid after their evening meal. Or even just having a simple conversation. Tehvay would quiz the aloyd about her childhood and Elit society. The aloyd herself, though, rarely asked about Tehvay, but would talk about her own interests instead.

This particular evening the aloyd allowed Tehvay to choose what they would watch. This act should have surprised Tehvay, but she was getting used to the aloyd's atypical behaviour as an owner – getting used to it and liking it.

It was not the level of freedom to which she had become accustomed while classed as a renegade, but it reminded her of the first year of being free. Being unsure of what to do, how to act. Yet every time Tehvay thought she might have overstepped a mark, Aloyd Karthen seemed to allow it.

The vid ended. Tehvay had enjoyed the film, but she could tell that the aloyd seemed somewhat distracted.

"So, what did you think of the vid?"

"Hmm? Oh, it was fine." Aloyd Karthen sat up straight. "Tehvay, I want you with me," said Aloyd Karthen.

What does she mean she wants me with her? Tehvay thought. Are we not sitting here together watching a vid? Tehvay's mind flooded with all sorts of thoughts of what her owner could mean. She viewed such requests with suspicion.

"While I am on duty tomorrow, I mean" the aloyd hastened to add.

Tehvay felt a measure of relief. "I'd like that." Her response was said without thought, but on consideration Tehvay realised it was true. She did like spending time with the aloyd. On first meeting, she had only seen a stern-faced officer, but over time had come to see a woman – a woman who, when she relaxed and smiled, was rather attractive.

The aloyd relaxed her posture and shifted position to face Tehvay. Tehvay turned in her seat, mirroring her owner.

"Yes, I would like you on the bridge of the Sword with me tomorrow. Mind you, this will not be a sightseeing tour. There are protocols that must be followed."

Tehvay nodded her understanding.

"An important guest will be visiting the ship, and I have arranged a small repast. You will be required to serve."

Tehvay became aware of the reality of the situation. Whatever Tehvay thought of the aloyd, whatever strange behaviour Aloyd Karthen might exhibit while around her, the woman was her owner, and Tehvay was her slave. "Of course. It is my duty to serve and obey," Tehvay said.

"I… I am a little concerned that the free expression I have allowed you in private…"

"I understand," Tehvay assured the aloyd. "Don't worry. I can play my part."

"Of course you can," Aloyd Karthen replied. "I sometimes forget that you have been a slave a long time."

"No, I will play my part because I want to please you, not because I am required to. In that way, I still have freewill. Do you understand the difference?"

"I am trying to understand," replied Aloyd Karthen.

In that moment, Tehvay didn't see a strong military officer in charge of hundreds of soldiers; Tehvay saw a shy, and dare she say, a lonely woman.

Tehvay felt the need speak to avoid confronting the feelings that were starting to surface. "I know we are going to Otopa, but what for?"

"I don't know. I will find out tomorrow," the aloyd replied.

"Is the governor another relative of yours? Is that the important guest?"

"No," Aloyd Karthen chuckled. "It's not a planet controlled by The Hegemony."

Tehvay felt embarrassed. "Oh, I didn't know."

"I suppose you didn't receive a proper education," said Aloyd Karthen earnestly.

"No," Tehvay replied. "I was taught to read and write, but mostly I was taught to obey."

Now it was the aloyd who was red-faced. "I am sorry. I did not mean…" the aloyd trailed off mid-apology. "Otopa is in the Dameb system," the aloyd continued. "Dameb fell into Hegemony control about seventy-years ago. It was part of the Losper Empire, but was conquered in the last days of the war. The peace treaty left Otopa in the hands of the Empire, while the rest of the system is part of The Hegemony."

"That's… complicated," observed Tehvay.

"To say the least," her owner replied. "Every so often there is some incident that tests the ability of each side's diplomats not to call for armed conflict to resolve the situation. Maybe this time they have failed."

"Do you mean we could be going to war?"

The aloyd looked with concern at the slave. "Don't worry. If war had started, I would have heard about it."

"But you could be going to start a war."

Aloyd Karthen replied, "If that's what's expected of me, then that's what I will do."

That means I could be going into a war! Tehvay thought, but she did not give voice to her sudden concern. She didn't want to end an otherwise pleasant evening on such a serious note. Besides, there's nothing I can do about it; I go where she goes.

Aloyd Karthen looked at the room's chronometer and announced she would turn in for the night. Tehvay got up from the couch and followed her owner to the bedroom.

This time, the aloyd seemed relaxed as Tehvay helped her remove the uniform, unlike the first time on Gatlor. Yet, like that night on Gatlor, Tehvay also sensed signs of arousal in the aloyd as she helped to remove her underwear.

Tehvay felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. It was a reflex from years of dreading the expected command. Her sexual experiences with female owners had not been any less forceful or degrading than those with male owners. Tehvay's fourth owner was a mining colony administrator who resented the backwater posting and took her frustration out on Tehvay. She was especially cruel when she drank, and she drank almost all the time.

If the command does come tonight, Tehvay thought , then I hope she is kind. This thought surprised her and she realised it, was not just the aloyd who was a little bit aroused. As she knelt down to retrieve the underwear from the floor, her face was close to the aloyd's sex. The triangle of dark hair was almost mesmerising. Tehvay wanted to reach out and stroke it, tangle her fingers in it, bury her face between her owner's thighs and coax a sultry moan from the mighty aloyd…

"That will be all, thank you," said Aloyd Karthen.

The last two words snapped Tehvay out of her reverie. Aloyd Karthen had said 'thank you' before, but it always shocked Tevhay to hear it. She was expecting a much different ending to this evening, and truth be told, Tehvay almost felt a little disappointed that the aloyd didn't ask her to stay.


The Conqueror had reunited with the rest of its striker group in orbit around Dameb, and set course for Otopa. Once underway Kikola had Tehvay accompany her to the bridge of the Sword . Kikola sat in a chair next to Commodore Heln on a raised dais in the centre of the bridge, Tehvay was standing just behind and to the right of Kikola's chair. The aloyd could hear her slave's gentle breathing against the background noise of the bridge and crew going about their business.

The crew ignored the presence of their aloyd's personal slave and concentrated on their jobs. It would not occur to any of them to question why an aloyd would have their slave accompany them while on duty. The immediate focus of the bridge was an orange dot in the middle of the viewscreen.

Commodore Heln, who was seated in the captain's chair, glanced sideways at Aloyd Karthen sitting to his right and said, "By treaty, this is as close as we are allowed to approach Otopa."

"Then this is where we stay," acknowledged Kikola.

Heln instructed the crew to hold at these coordinates and inform Captain Eadmon on the strike ship Crusade .

"Shuttle approaching," announced the communications officer. "Requesting permission to dock."

"Grant it," ordered Commodore Heln.

A few minutes later a security detail entered the bridge followed by a man in his late eighties. He wore the dark grey uniform of an aloyd, the insignia pinned to his collar was a reverse 'C' with an over star etched in red on a gold rectangle background, signifying the highest rank attainable for an Elit: Supreme-Aloyd. His greying hair was trimmed close to his scalp and sharp grey eyes darted around, seemingly looking for something to criticise.

Kikola stood to attention and saluted her illustrious guest, who barely acknowledged the respect being shown. "Supreme-Aloyd Taliss, it is an honour."

"Yes," Taliss replied in a haughty tone. "I always thought you were a rather frail-looking child, but you managed to graduate from the Academy as Aloyd, First-Class."

"Yes, Aloyd."

"It took me six years of service to reach Aloyd, First-Class."

"But only a further two years to be granted the rank of Supreme-Aloyd," Kikola offered. "An unparalleled achievement, and one I can only hope to emulate."

Taliss seemed placated by Kikola's regard for his service, and by the deference she had shown. He focussed his attention fully on her for the first time. "At ease. We have business to discuss."

"Of course." Kikola turned to Commodore Heln. "Commodore, Supreme-Aloyd Taliss and I will be in the ready room."

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen."

Tehvay followed the two aloyds to the ready room. Once the doors closed, Taliss disclosed the reason for his visit to the Sword . "You were dispatched here, to Otopa, but you weren't given the details. I am here to brief you on your next assignment."

Kikola gestured for the older man to take the seat at the head of the table. "May I offer you some refreshment?" She pointed towards a side table filled with fresh food, not ship rations.

Taliss nodded and Tehvay brought a selection of delicacies to the table. Taliss did nothing to acknowledge her and helped himself to the food being offered.

After cleaning his plate of every morsel, the Supreme-Aloyd got to the business at hand. He presented his subordinate with the mission brief.

"As you know, the Losper Empire is suffering from economic stagnation, and tensions with the Andantians over the Aquin System are rising. If the Empire has a choice, they'd rather fight the Andantians than us. Therefore, The Council has decided the time is ripe for us to secure Otopa for The Hegemony."

The senior aloyd took a moment to gulp down a glass of wine and then continued. "Our strategists predict an eighty-three per cent chance that the Losper Empire would not go to war with The Hegemony over Otopa. Not going to war would force the Empire to secure the natural resources they so desperately need from the Aquin System. This would lead to war between the Empire and the Andantians. The Empire and the Andantians would be weakened after their little war, and with the whole of the Dameb system under our control, we would be well positioned to assert full sovereignty over this sector. I see no down side to this plan."

"I do," the aloyd said, much to the displeasure of Taliss.

"Would you care to enlighten me?"

"Certainly," Kikola replied. "With all due respect to the strategists, it's just as likely that the Losper Empire would never give up Otopa without a fight, on principle. And our relations with the Andantians are hardly cordial. If we made a move against Otopa, the Andantians could negotiate an alliance with the Losper for concessions in their dispute over the Aquin System and join them in a war against us. Then rather than the Losper Empire fighting on two fronts, The Hegemony would be fighting on two fronts."

"Hmm, I see. That is a possibility," Taliss admitted.

The Supreme-Aloyd held up his empty wine glass for Tehvay to refill. Kikola acknowledged Tehvay's presence with a glance as Tehvay poured the wine and then resumed her position against the wall. She is behaving like a true slave, thought Kikola. But then she is one , she concluded sadly.

Turning her attentions back to Supreme-Aloyd Taliss, Kikola said, "If the eighty-three per cent was more like ninety or ninety-five per cent, I would see less of a down side."

"Regardless, you have been given your orders," Taliss said. "Otopa is to be brought under full Hegemony control – now. To that end, I am placing three additional striker groups under your command. While I will be in administrative command of this operation, you are the tactical commander in charge."

"Yes, Supreme-Aloyd." Aloyd Karthen replied. "It is my duty to serve and obey."

Kikola recalled Tehvay using those exact words the day before. She once said that I was more of a slave than her. Maybe she is right.


The Governor of Otopa was a grizzled, dishevelled man. Just by looking at his 3-D image displayed by the communications panel, Kikola guessed his age could be anywhere between fifty and seventy, but his profile showed he was only forty-five years old. Whatever his age, Gortam did not outwardly appear to suit the esteemed position of Planetary Governor. In The Hegemony, planetary governors were Elit; they had bearing and presence. Gortam looked no better to her than a Labror.

"Governor Gortam, I am Aloyd… Karthen..." Kikola was about to give her full name, but she reasoned correctly that Gortam had little interest in Hegemony protocol.

"Reveal intention!" His tone was abrupt, and while, like the vast majority of the Orion Spur, he spoke the standard language, the odd sounding Losper dialect was evident in his voice.

Kikola smiled. "Direct and to the point, I admire that."

"Save your flattering tongue for those that care, Karten."

"It's Karthen, not Karten."

"Do I give appearance of caring? I have more pressing issues than exchanging words with you. Reveal intention or end this dialogue."

Kikola was glad she had decided to make this call from the privacy of the Sword's ready room. Only Tehvay was witness to the exchange.

"Under article twenty, paragraph three of the treaty we are entitled to exercise our right to visit and undertake inspections of any facility or building, public or private that we wish to do so and can complete within four days. I am hereby giving you the one day notice of the visit as decreed."

"That can only be exercised every five years."

"Check your calendar."

Gortam glowered and looked down to something on his desk; obviously he was double-checking the treaty's stipulations and was not at all pleased.

"Consider us notified." He cut the connection.

"Charming fellow," commented Tehvay.

"He'll not be so arrogant when I show up with four fully armed striker groups in the morning." In frustration, Kikola got up abruptly and knocked the table, spilling a warm beverage on the floor.

Tehvay set about cleaning up the mess while Kikola brooded at the other end of the table with the mission report in her hand. The aloyd knew she would need to brief her senior staff on their mission.

After several tense minutes, Tehvay broke the silence, chancing that it would be all right because they were alone. "So, you're going ahead with a military takeover then?" Tehvay asked.

Glad to have a reason to put down the report, Kikola said, "Yes, though an eighty-three per cent chance of success is far from certain victory. I am still not convinced our actions would go unchallenged by the Losper Empire, but that is a chance I will have to take."

"Supreme-Aloyd Taliss didn't seem to be concerned."

"No, but then he would not be held responsible for the mission's failure."

"Perhaps there is an alternative to military confrontation," Tehvay suggested.

"I cannot think of any."

"Have you considered a diplomatic solution?"

"I am no diplomat," Kikola replied. "I am an aloyd, a soldier, and that means going down there heavily armed, executing leaders who would resist The Hegemony's takeover, pacifying citizens, and preparing for the likelihood of military retaliation on the part of the Losper Empire."

Tehvay drew closer to the aloyd but maintained a respectful posture lest someone enter the ready room unannounced. "It occurs to me that the citizens of Otopa might respond better to being asked rather than threatened."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what if the Otopans were asked to decide for themselves if they want to become part of The Hegemony, then the Losper Empire would have no reason to go to war."

"My orders were clear."

"With respect, Aloyd. Your orders were to bring Otopa under Hegemony control… they didn't specify how."

"True. I see your point. It is certainly worth considering. Besides, if that doesn't work, there is always Plan B."


The air on Otopa was thick with the orange sand that covered most of the planet. The orange colour was from iron oxide. Otopa was iron rich and originally settled as a mining colony. However, since the redrawing of the borders after the last war, mining production had slowed to a crawl since Otopa had trouble exporting iron ore out of Hegemony territory. That meant most of the fifty thousand Otopans were barely scraping a living. Some had tried irrigating the desert, but chemical fertilisers were on the import ban list and the produce was low quality. With little alternative, the Otopans had no choice but to eat it. Food could be imported, but like everything else that was imported, it was expensive.

"If you decide to join The Hegemony of your own free will, then you will no longer be subject to the treaty restrictions," Kikola explained to Governor Gortam and a delegation of community leaders who had met them at the shuttle port.

Members of the delegation were all dressed in a similar fashion: one-piece coverall-type suits, all in shades of browns and dusted with the prevalent orange sand.

"So we could settle on other planets in The Hegemony?" asked Ajak, one of the leaders. She was a woman in her thirties; her dark skin was lined by a hard life and harsh environment.

"Yes. Citizens of The Hegemony are free to travel for business or pleasure. And, with no import/export restrictions, you could start up full-scale iron ore production again. Iron and iron ore are needed within The Hegemony. Your standard of living will be vastly improved. We can help improve your harvest if you still wish to produce your own food. I understand some of your vegetables are a delicacy within The Hegemony. That will be another source of income. You might not wish to leave here."

"What of returning to the Empire?" asked Gortam. "Most have family in the Empire. Joining The Hegemony would separate us from kin, more so than the current situation."

"Those that wish to emigrate will be allowed. We do not hold people against their will."

"Yet you parade a slave before us." Gortam pointed at Tehvay. "Or do you insist that she is a slave by choice?"

Kikola took a moment before replying. "Yes, there are slaves in The Hegemony, but you are free people. You will not be slaves. There is a slave caste; all slaves come from there. You will have nothing to fear."

"We've heard stories," Ajak interjected.

"I am sure they are unfounded," Kikola stated firmly. "If your community holds a referendum and decides to join The Hegemony, then I can guarantee you will be granted full citizenship. After that, anyone who wishes to return to the Empire will be free to do so." Kikola softened her tone. "I sense a lot of you do not wish to be here. Under the current situation you cannot leave. I am giving you the opportunity to take control of your destiny. Join The Hegemony and you can leave. You can go to the Empire, or go elsewhere in The Hegemony, or stay and try and rebuild the colony to what it should be. It has to be better than the current situation."

Gortam stepped forward. "You'll forgive us if we treat your words with caution. Too often your tongue gives words that do not support your actions." He cast a glance behind him to his compatriots. "We have no choice but to listen to your offer and give our response after due consideration."

The aloyd nodded. "That is all I can ask. And as a show of good faith I will postpone my inspections."

Kikola signalled to the guards that they should return to the shuttle. She turned and headed that way herself, with Tehvay trailing dutifully behind.

Suddenly Kikola heard a 'pop' sound from behind her. She recognised the sound as weapon discharge. Immediately her sidearm was in her hand and she spun around. Her guards were a fraction of a second behind her in their reactions. The next shot hit Kikola's right shoulder, but her armour did its job and protected her. She returned fire at the figure crouched on top of a nearby building. Half of her guards returned fire while the others rushed off towards the building.

Kikola took a step to follow, but her foot caught something on the ground. She looked down and saw Tehvay lying face down in the dust; dark red blood stained her back.


Kikola knelt down to examine the slave's injuries, the wound appeared to be a puncture wound that suggested the weapon was firing projectiles rather than plasma bolts. She turned the slave over. Tehvay coughed and blood started flowing from her mouth. Kikola could see no exit wound and quickly turned Tehvay back over. She unclipped the medpack from her belt.

"Sergeant!" she barked. "Help me!" She tore at the hole in the back of Tehvay's clothes and applied a sealant to the wound.

"Aloyd?" The sergeant had stopped firing and looked at his commanding officer.

"Help me get her—it on board the shuttle." Kikola pressed a hypo syringe to Tehvay's neck and pressed the plunger.



The sergeant obeyed and came to aid the aloyd. Between them they got Tehvay into the shuttle.

"Back to the Sword – now!" Kikola yelled at the pilot.

"Yes, Aloyd."

It seemed to take far too long before the whine of the engines rose in pitch and the shuttle started moving. Kikola pulled out the shuttle's medpack and attached a monitor to Tehvay's wrist.

Seeing Tehvay so badly injured focussed Kikola's mind like a laser beam. After attaching the monitor, she had to force herself to let go of Tehvay's hand to administer the dose of trimethophren the monitor was indicating. 'Patient stable. No further action required' flashed up on the monitor's screen. She was no medical expert, but from the vital signs displayed, Tehvay was still in grave condition.

"Aloyd," the sergeant spoke up. "We're leaving people behind."

"They can take care of themselves, and you can go back for them later. This situation is more critical."

"All due respect, it's just a slave."

"If I hear you say anything other than 'yes, Aloyd', I will have you blown out of an airlock. Do you understand, Sergeant?"

"Yes, Aloyd." The sergeant probably didn't understand, but he knew better than to challenge an aloyd's order.

"Pilot, alert the Sword we have a medical emergency and to have a med team meet us. Bypass all but the critical landing protocols."

It was the longest shuttle flight Kikola had ever experienced.


Tehvay never heard the shot. As her owner headed back towards the shuttle, Tehvay had followed behind like a dutiful slave. Everything after that seemed to happen in a disjointed manner.

She heard Aloyd Karthen call her name.

She remembered falling.

She opened her eyes and saw only orange dirt.

She felt pain as if she had been hit in the back by a heavy weight.

She heard a gurgling noise and tasted a coppery liquid oozing from her mouth.

She heard voices.

She saw light.

She saw her owner's face.

"You are awake," the aloyd said with wonder. "Doctor!"

She felt a sharp sting on her neck.

She felt numb.

"Easy. It's all right. You are safe."

Tehvay's eyes focussed on the face looking down at her. It was Aloyd Karthen. Her owner's soft brown eyes looked tired - there were dark circles around them. Her dark brown hair looked limp and unkempt. Her lips were thin and pale.

"Wha…" her voice dried up in her throat.

Her eyes closed and Tehvay drifted into unconsciousness again… until she heard the shot. It startled her and she awoke, lying face down in bed.

After a few moments someone entered and started touching her back.

"How are you feeling?" a voice asked her in a clinical tone.

She turned to look at the speaker. "Okay, I guess."

"It's best if you don't lie on your back for a few days," the doctor said. "Do you understand?"

"Yes," Tehvay croaked. She considered asking what had happened, but remembered that most people did not talk to slaves.

"Do you feel any pain?"


The doctor nodded as if she had given the correct answer. "I have contacted Aloyd Karthen. She will be here to collect you presently." He turned and walked away.

A nurse stepped forward and dropped Tehvay's clothes on the bed. He gave Tehvay a look as if she were something foul he had stepped in and then followed the doctor out of the room.

Tehvay looked around at her surroundings. It didn't take a genius to work out she was in a private sickbay ward, but where it was and how she got there was a mystery. She climbed out of the bed and picked up her clothes; they were dirty and the shirt had a large, bloody tear in it.

With nothing else to put on, Tehvay removed the hospital gown, got dressed in her soiled and bloody clothing, and sat down on the edge of the bed to await her owner. According to the chronometer on the wall, she waited six minutes but it felt like six hours. She was relieved to see Aloyd Karthen enter the medical ward.

"How are you feeling?" her owner asked.

"What happened? I think I remember falling." She looked down at herself. "That would explain the dirt. But my back?"

"I will explain all when we get back to the Conqueror and… oh, your clothes!"

"That's all right. It's only my back."

"No. It's not all right. Here, I brought you this." The aloyd offered the wrapped package to Tehvay.

Tehvay opened the package and saw the familiar light blue clothes – yet not the same slave's uniform she was used to. Intrigued, Tehvay pulled out a jacket styled like the one Aloyd Karthen was wearing. Tehvay's slave ident was printed on it, but in a smaller, more discreet rectangle positioned over the left breast where military personnel had their names on their uniforms. The jacket was heavy, not as heavy as the aloyd's but heavier than what Tehvay was used to wearing.

"I took the liberty of getting you a uniform that will protect you better. The law dictates the colour and the slave ident, but not the style and material."

Tehvay slipped the jacket on. "Thank you. Thank you." She felt warm and sheltered – like she wanted to curl up inside it and hide like a snail in a shell. "You said 'protect me'. What happened? Was I shot?"

"Yes," said Aloyd Karthen sadly. "Though fortunately the weapon was homemade and low powered. But enough to almost…" She coughed. "There are trousers and boots as well," she added brightly.

Tehvay gave her owner an appreciative smile and donned the trousers and boots. She glanced down to admire the outfit. It was a very generous gesture on the part of her owner to have it made for her.

Tehvay didn't want to embarrass Aloyd Karthen with a lot of gushing, so she changed the subject. "I guess I'll have a scar on my back."

"I had the doctor treat the wound so there will be no scar."

"I appreciate that, but why?"

Tehvay did not hear her owner's reply. Her vision started greying and she felt as if she was going to faint. "Is it very warm in here?" she asked weakly.

"No. Are you feeling all right? Oh wait, it could be the thermal regulator."

"The what?"

The aloyd opened up Tehvay's jacket. "Here." She showed Tehvay a small panel sewn inside the jacket. "A thermal regulator. Just turn it down a bit. It makes the jacket suitable for all temperatures."

"I wondered what that panel in your uniform was and why you weren't melting when we visited your home on Kalenth."

Aloyd Karthen allowed a smile. "Come, let us get you back to the Conqueror ."


Once the door to her private quarters was closed, Kikola led Tehvay to a small couch in her private ready room and made sure Tehvay was comfortable. She pulled up a nearby chair and recounted the shooting on Otopa, the fraught shuttle flight to safety, and the four long days waiting for the doctor to awaken Tehvay from the induced coma.

"Four days? It only feels like a few hours ago that I was on the planet," Tehvay said, as if trying to make sense of it. "Was I asleep all that time? I seem to remember you visiting me."

"Yes, you were sedated. The doctor said you may be aware of noises in the ward," Kikola patiently explained.

"So you did visit me."

"Yes. I looked in on you."

"Thank you. The shooter? Did you capture the shooter?"

"He was killed by the guards. He shot at them and they returned fire."

Tehvay was quiet for a moment as she processed the news. "What about the situation there – your mission? I hope this didn't disrupt your plans."

Kikola's features hardened. "They almost killed you. I wanted revenge so I called for a bombardment of the planet."

Tehvay recoiled in disbelief. "Please tell me you didn't order the deaths of fifty thousand people because of me. I'm not worth that!"

"You are. You are worth ten times that to me. A hundred times that."

"No!" Tehvay jumped out of her seat and became very agitated. "Do you have any idea what you've done – to me?" Tehvay was becoming distraught. "I can't have all those deaths on my conscience!"

"Tehvay," Kikola stood up and reached out to her.

"No! Get away from me!" Panic closed around her chest like a vice grip. Tehvay tried to push her owner away.

"Tehvay!" Kikola took a hold of her and held her tight. "It's all right. I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"

What the aloyd was trying to tell Tehvay finally registered, and she stopped resisting. "I don't understand. You just said you ordered the bombardment?"

"I know, but sit and allow me to explain."

Tehvay took a seat on the edge of the couch again, her eyes cast downward.

"Tehvay, please look at me."

The blonde-haired slave raised her eyes enough to be compliant with her owner's wishes.

"I said I called for a bombardment, but I did not give the order to proceed," Kikola replied. "I came so close to giving the order to fire. Every fibre of my being was screaming at me to exact revenge and turn the planet surface to glass. Every fibre!" Kikola joined Tehvay on the couch. "And I had every reason – except one…" The aloyd paused. "You."

"Me?" Tehvay seemed confused.

"Yes. I knew if I gave that order I would lose your respect – I would lose you. And I would rather lose anything – everything – except you."

"I, uh…" The aloyd's words baffled Tehvay into silence.

Kikola felt like she was standing on top of a very tall precipice. She knew if she took the next step, there was no turning back; and if she did not, there was no going forward. The longer Tehvay remained silent, the more unsure Kikola was becoming. Maybe this is not the right time , Kikola thought. Maybe I should leave well enough alone. Maybe…

Tehvay finally spoke. "Thank you, Aloyd Karthen. I'm gratified to know that you value my service, and I—"

Kikola realised that Tehvay had got a hold of the wrong end of the stick. Kikola could have just left it at that for now; save them both potential embarrassments. But Kikola was trained to be decisive, meet any challenge, triumph over fear. For her, there was no second-guessing, no retreat. She had to tell Tehvay the truth, whatever the risk, whatever the cost.

"Tehvay, there is something I must say, so hear me out."

The slave straightened her back and gave Kikola her attention.

"Tehvay, ever since I met you, I have been experiencing feelings I have never felt before, feelings for which I had no words. That is until four days ago when I saw you lying on the ground in all that blood. That is when my feelings became crystal clear. I understood that I didn't want to lose you; that you mean everything to me; that my life would feel incomplete without you in it."

Kikola saw the mystified look on Tehvay's face and realised she was not making herself clear. "I know this is a lot to take in."

"I'm not sure I completely understand what you're trying to say," Tehvay replied.

"I don't know what I am saying," Kikola confessed. "I only know how I am feeling. I am all churned up inside when I think about you, and I think about you most of my waking moments. What I am trying to tell you is that I care for you – deeply."

"If this is a joke, then it's a cruel one."

"I have never been more sincere," Kikola tried to reassure her. "I know you have no reason to trust what an owner says. But I am not saying this as your owner—"

"You are my owner."

"I know," Kikola felt the sting of Tehvay's reproach and looked towards the floor.

"I… I think I need to lie down," said Tehvay, who was looking rather pale.

"Of course." Kikola knew the couch would not be comfortable and her bedroom was the closest, so that is where she took the injured woman. Kikola helped Tehvay to the edge of the bed and had her lie down on her side.

When Kikola sat down next to her, Tehvay tried to move away – out of arms reach. Kikola could see anxiety written all over Tehvay's face. This was not the reaction for which she had been hoping.

The dark-haired aloyd got off the bed and moved a respectful distance away. "Tehvay, understandably this must have come as a shock. I should have waited until you were fully healed. I apologise. You should rest for a while. I can come back."

Tehvay sat up again. "No! I think we need to talk about it now."

"Very well." Kikola pointed to two occasional chairs in the corner. "Perhaps you would be more comfortable if we sat over there."

Tehvay moved to the chair nearest the door. The aloyd settled into the other chair.

"Aloyd Karthen—"

"Kikola… please, call me Kikola – at least when we are alone."

"That will take some getting used to," Tehvay admitted. "Forgive me if I got it wrong, but I thought you said that you cared deeply for me."

"Yes, I did."

"What exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean you care for me deeply as your slave? As a person, a friend? Or are you saying you want to take me as your lover?"

"Well, I would not have put it in those terms."

"How would you put it then?"

"I told you, I care for you deeply."

"How deeply?"

Kikola knew Tehvay was pushing her to be clear, but she did not have the experience, or the words, "I…"

"You…?" Tehvay prompted. "Please, Kikola … this is important, for both our sakes."

That seemed to give Kikola the courage she needed to be vulnerable. "I—I think I have feelings… romantic feelings… for you… I… I am… deeply attracted to you." The aloyd held her breath awaiting Tehvay's response.

"So you want to take me as your lover then."

"Yes… no… I don't know. I hadn't thought past telling you how I feel about you."

There was silence between them.

"So…" Kikola could not stand another minute without knowing if her affections were shared. "…do you think you could ever have feelings for me, too?"


This was uncharted territory for Tehvay. The only feelings she'd ever had for an owner were indifference, contempt, or loathing. But she had come to realise that Aloyd Karthen was no ordinary owner. She was different: cold and formidable, yet sensitive and caring. However, it was Tehvay herself that was switching wildly between extremes at this time. Anger at the thought of Otopa being bombed, relief when she found out it wasn't. Confusion over the aloyd admitting to having feelings for her, terror over what that could mean.

And then the final bombshell. Aloyd Karthen confessing her feelings for Tehvay were romantic and asking Tehvay if she felt the same way.

It took several moments for the implications of what was said to sink in.

If Tehvay were being honest with herself, she could see herself caring for this woman. So, Tehvay took a leap of faith.

"I, too, feel something for you. Part of me didn't want to believe it," Tehvay confessed. "But yes, I think I can trust you enough to care for you as well."

They sat in silence, staring at one another for a long time.

"What do we do now?" asked Tehvay.

"I was hoping you could tell me," Kikola replied.

"Me? I've never been in this situation before."

"Nor I. Whatever we do, this…" the aloyd pointed between the two of them, "…this must remain a secret."

Tehvay wanted to protest, but then the reality of the situation came crashing back to her. "Yes, Aloyd Karthen." She bowed her head like the good slave she was brought up to be.

The aloyd sprang to her feet, cupped Tehvay's chin and forced the slave to look up and meet her eyes. "When we are in private you may call me Kikola. We can be like this." She placed a gentle kiss on the slave's cheek.

Tehvay felt her chest tighten as Kikola moved in towards her, but was relieved that it was only a kiss on the cheek. She wasn't sure she was ready for more.

"Sadly though it can only be in private. In public, as much as it will pain me, you will have to be my slave and behave accordingly. As I will have to behave accordingly."

Kikola stepped back and said, "I will try to limit your time in public, so you don't have to endure the humiliation; however, there will be times when we are both tested.

A small, sad smile curled Tehvay's lips. "I understand."

"Governor Gortam has contacted me," Kikola said. "He apologised for the shooting and inquired after your health. The fact that I personally saved a slave went some way to convince him that The Hegemony is not as bad as painted by the Losper Empire, but I suspect he may not truly believe you received the medical attention I said you did. To see you alive and well will truly convince him I was not lying about that."

"I'm not sure I like the idea of that. I don't want to deceive anyone."

"This is our only hope for a peaceful resolution. Supreme-Aloyd Taliss heard about the attack and wanted to declare war. I managed to convince The Council and they convinced him. The Losper Empire knows that the attack gives us grounds to declare war, but if we don't react then that will strengthen our position. But I cannot stall for much longer. I need to go to Taliss with concrete evidence that I can secure Otopa by peaceful means. I need you to help me."

"What exactly do you want me to do?"

"Come back down to Otopa with me. We will meet with Gortam and a few others. They are close to agreeing to the referendum. Your presence will hopefully be the final push they need."

Tehvay nodded. "When?"

"Tomorrow morning. For now, you need to get some rest."

"I've just spent four days resting."

"I have spent four days worrying about you. I need some rest," Kikola replied.

"Of course. I should leave you… or should I stay… or…" Tehvay was not sure what came next.

"I would like it if you would stay with me. Here." Kikola looked over at the bed.

Tehvay looked at the bed. "I…"

"I can see your apprehension, but I am not asking for… that. I just want you next to me as I sleep. That is, if you are comfortable with it, of course. I promised you I would never force you to do anything against your wishes."

"Thank you… Kikola," Tehvay replied gratefully.

Kikola began the evening ritual of getting undressed and Tehvay helped her. However, this time was very different. There was a subtle shift in the way Tehvay undressed Kikola. It was slower, more deliberate, more sensual.

"May I help undress you?" Kikola asked gently.

"Yes," Tehvay replied in a low tone.

Tehvay was appreciative of how Kikola took her time undressing her – being careful not to touch Tehvay inappropriately.

Tehvay could see the longing in Kikola's eyes, and almost gave permission for the aloyd to do more than look. Before she could, Kikola tore her eyes away and pulled back the bedclothes. The aloyd lay down and looked up at Tehvay.

"Please? I just want to feel you near me."

Tehvay climbed into the bed and lay on her stomach next to Kikola. The aloyd pulled the bedclothes over them and settled back with a contented smile on her face. Tehvay was surprised to feel herself drifting off to sleep. The last thing Tehvay remembered doing was reaching out and placing her arm over Kikola's stomach and Kikola's hand gently clutching at her fingers.


Kikola took double the number of guards to Otopa as she had the first time, though she wisely ordered that they stay outside the door to Governor Gortam's office. The Governor was looking more haggard than he had the first time they met. The hair on his unshaven face could almost be called a beard. He was flanked by two community leaders: Ajak and Sulyn.

Sulyn was a man in his fifties with greying hair and, in stark contrast to his two compatriots, was smooth faced. He looked like someone who had spent his whole life inside away from the dust that permeated the air.

Gortam looked at Tehvay, but spoke to the aloyd. "Your words were true. Your slave lives."

"Yes. She received the same medical care as anyone else would on a military ship."

Tehvay noticed the use of the word 'she'. Was it a slip by Kikola or was it a calculated move to humanise The Hegemony?

"And she wears the appearance of a military uniform this time."

"I was not expecting an assassination attempt and Tehvay was wearing the standard clothing for slaves last time. I made a decision to give her an armoured uniform, just in case it were to happen again."

Gortam blushed under his stubble. "I assure you that we have taken extra security precautions for this visit."

"My apologies. I meant on other planets I might have cause to visit. Though, I too have taken extra security precautions today."

Gortam approached Tehvay and spoke to her. "I wish to offer my personal apologies for the… unfortunate incident the other day. An incident perpetrated by an individual without sanction from myself or the Otopan council."

Tehvay looked towards Kikola for a hint of what to do. Kikola gave her the briefest of nods to indicate she should reply.

"I accept your apologies, Governor Gortam."

"As so often in the Spur, the innocent are damaged by the politics of a situation. Give me your words, Tehvay, are you aware of the politics unfolding here at this time?"

"Yes," she replied. This time she did not seek approval to speak.

Ajak cleared her throat. "And what course of action do you suggest we pursue? Should we join The Hegemony, a society that has denied you your freedom, kept you enslaved, deprived you of your humanity?"

Tehvay thought carefully before replying. She maintained steady eye contact with Gortam to show him and the Otopans that there was no coercion from her owner.

"In The Hegemony it is not my place to tell anyone what they should do, because I am a slave. I am only expected to obey what I am told to do. You are not slaves, so I nor anyone else should tell you what to do."

"Ajak asked for an opinion not an order," Sulyn interjected. "She asked for your opinion. Are you not allowed to have an opinion?"

"You didn't let me finish," said Tehvay. "I won't tell you what to do, or give my opinion of what you should do. I will tell you what will happen if you don't hold the referendum, or the outcome of the referendum is to stay in the Losper Empire. You'll die. The Hegemony will take this planet by force. If you join The Hegemony then you'll have your lives, your livelihoods and your freedom. The decision is yours to make."

Gortam turned to stare at Kikola. "Are her words true?"

"Yes," said Kikola. "I have orders to make Otopa part of The Hegemony. I am giving you a chance to make this a bloodless transition."

"Your words of promise about our choices if we join The Hegemony, are they false?"

"They are true," Kikola replied.

"Are they true?" Gortam asked Tehvay.

"I believe they are," she replied. "Aloyd Karthen gave her word, and she will do everything in her power to ensure her word is not broken."

"Then we stand and fight!" said Ajak.

"No!" said Sulyn. "This place is not worth our deaths. Here we are part of the Empire in name only. Look at us! Do we enjoy the same comforts and privileges as everyone else in the Empire?"

"We can't be bullied and threatened into giving up our planet."

"Ajak, you're a fool," growled Sulyn. "Only a simple minded fool would need to be bullied to give up this planet."

"Silence!" Gortam shouted. "We are without choice, we give The Hegemony what they want."

"Your words are a joke without humour!" cried Ajak.

"I have a sixteen year old son," said Gortam. "I'm not condemning him to an invasion that will likely see him killed. I want him to have a life."

"You are making the right decision," said Kikola.

"It would be advisable to silence your tongue!" Gortam pointed an accusing finger at her. "Return to your ship. I will inform the Empire of our decision. I will have words later with our demands… requests, which will need satisfying before anyone from The Hegemony find this planet under foot again."

"Do not leave it too long. I cannot hold back an invasion indefinitely." Kikola spun on her heel and marched out of the office. Tehvay hurried to keep up with her.


The executive conference room on the Sword was painted the customary, cheerless dark grey – just like the uniform of an aloyd. Aloyd Karthen sat at the head of the table, with Captain Wurth, Captain Eadmon, and Admiral Heln sitting on either side of her. They had assembled to await word from the Governor of Otopa. When the signal came Kikola nodded at Captain Wurth. He leaned forward and pressed a button embedded in the table in front of him. View screens sprang into life around the room showing the grizzled features of Governor Gortam, and a three dimensional hologram of the governor floated above the table.

"I've contacted the Empire and explained our position," he said. "They've agreed to it."

"That is good to hear," said Kikola.

"A fleet of transport ships will be sent to remove those of us that wish to return to the Empire. Seventy percent voice such desire." He gave a wry laugh. "Already we hear voices of complaint from Empire citizens about the influx of refugees."

"I hope things work out for you."

"Spare me the platitudes. The ships will be here within three days. Our request is that these ships are not stopped and searched on their in-bound and out-bound journeys."

"Preposterous!" Captain Eadmon cried. Any further outburst was cut short by a simple raised hand from Aloyd Karthen.

"Carry on, Governor."

"I will depart on the last ship. I will have words upon departure formally handing control to The Hegemony. Until then the treaty we have still stands. You are to leave the stipulated one hundred million kilometres exclusion zone."

"Those terms are acceptable."

"I'm holding you responsible for the well-being of those that stay behind."

"If they adhere to the laws of The Hegemony then you will have no concern," Aloyd Karthen replied. "I await your next call."

Kikola terminated the connection.

Commodore Heln had a grin from ear to ear. "In all my years I have never seen such a magnificent display of diplomacy. Your calling in the military is perhaps misplaced."

"Not everyone shares your appreciation. I still have to convince Supreme-Aloyd Taliss to agree to this."

"If the Supreme-Aloyd has any sense, he'll order us to attack those ships when they're leaving," Eadmon muttered.

"Your opinion is noted, though you would be wise to keep opinions like that to yourself, if you value your position," Aloyd Karthen replied sternly.

Kikola turned to the commander of the Conqueror . "Would you care to share your opinion, Captain Wurth?"

"No, Aloyd."

"Captain Eadmon, return to your ship and set a course for Dameb."

"Yes, Aloyd." She stood and saluted.

When the door closed behind Eadmon, Commodore Heln stood and saluted. "I will have us break orbit once Captain Eadmon's shuttle is clear."

"No. Wait until the Crusade and the other striker groups are outside the exclusion zone before breaking orbit."

"As you wish." The curiosity was evident in his voice if not his words.

Kikola didn't want to reveal her distrust of Eadmon.

"Inform Otopa traffic control that you are experiencing a problem and will leave when it is fixed. I don't want the Otopans getting too suspicious, so power down the weapons. Captain Wurth, prep the Conqueror . We will follow the Crusade ."

"Very good, Aloyd."


Tehvay was polishing the dining table when she felt the floor rumble and the queasy roll in her stomach as the cruiser left the gravity field of the larger ship. After previously expressing her curiosity as to the ship's movements, Kikola had granted Tehvay access to some of the ship's systems. The slave stopped polishing and moved towards an access terminal on the wall.

The terminal flashed into life and showed a vid-feed from sensors on the outside. The star field in view slewed to the right and then steadied. A text feed from the navigation computer at the bottom of the screen indicated their destination was Dameb.

Dameb was the second planet in the system. Otopa was the third planet. The closest distance between the planets was two hundred million kilometres, hence the one hundred million-kilometre exclusion zone for Otopa. The display indicated that the current distance to Dameb was two hundred and seventy four million kilometres. Tehvay watched as the distance ticked down.

When Kikola returned Tehvay greeted her as her slave, forgetting for a moment their new arrangement. Kikola smiled and reminded Tehvay that they were alone.

Just as Kikola was navigating through unfamiliar territory as a diplomat, the two of them were navigating through the newness of their relationship.

"Would you mind putting the polishing cloth down and allow me to greet you properly?"

"Yes, Aloyd–I mean, Kikola." Tehvay left the cloth on the table and allowed herself to be drawn into Kikola's waiting arms.

This was a new sensation for Tehvay – to have the warmth of a loving embrace. It felt strange. It felt right. They had agreed to take things slowly, but Tehvay was beginning to relax into the idea of taking it another step further. "May I kiss you?" she asked.

"You never have to ask," Kikola replied.

Tehvay slowly leaned in, closed her eyes, and gently allowed their lips to touch – nothing steamy or forceful – just a sweet and tender kiss that made them both smile.

"Would you like some refreshments?" Tehvay asked.

"That would be very welcome, thank you," Kikola replied.

Tehvay went to the galley and returned with a snack plate and two beverages. This time she didn't wait to be invited to sit down by the aloyd. She sat next to Kikola and they shared the plate of food.

"I consulted the access terminal and saw that we have set a course to Dameb. What's on Dameb?" asked Tehvay.

"Supreme-Aloyd Taliss. Most of the Otopans have chosen to leave and are handing the planet over to us. I have to go to Dameb and persuade Supreme-Aloyd Taliss to hold off attacking them."

"Surely now that you've secured the planet he won't need to attack?"

"It's not secured until we land in force and establish a base. I just have to convince Taliss to give me more time."

"He'll see that they are leaving."

"No. He will see the Losper Empire sending large transport ships through Hegemony territory. Ships I have promised Gortam will not be stopped and searched. It presents the Empire with a perfect opportunity to bring in troops and weapons."

"Is that what you believe?"

"It is a possibility. I believe Gortam is sincere in his desire to leave, however, I am not convinced the Empire shares his wishes. But if we are to avoid the blood of innocent people being shed, then I had to agree to Gortam's terms and I will have to convince Supreme-Aloyd Taliss to do the same."


It was dark outside when Kikola stepped out of the shuttle on Dameb. She had decided to leave Tehvay on board the Conqueror . While Tehvay played the submissive slave in public very well, Kikola thought she would be too distracted by Tehvay's presence to think clearly when she spoke with Supreme-Aloyd Taliss.

The command building on the military base was large, but nowhere near as large or impressive as anything on Kalenth. Kikola strode down the long, high corridor, while an aide hurried along behind her.

"Supreme-Aloyd Taliss is," the aide paused to catch her breath, "having dinner. He doesn't like to be dist—" another deep breath, "disturbed while he's eating."

Kikola stopped suddenly and the aide bumped into her.

"Oh! I'm sorry. Forgive me, Aloyd. I'm deeply sorry."

"Supreme-Aloyd Taliss was informed that I would be arriving. He is expecting me."

"Yes, of course, but if you could just wait un—"

"No!" Kikola pushed open the doors in front of her.

"I'm sorry," gushed the aide, rushing ahead into the room. "Aloyd Karthen was most insistent."

Taliss waved a hand to silence the aide. "Just go," he told her.

"Yes, Supreme-Aloyd." The aide saluted and hurried out, closing the door behind her.

"Come," Taliss beckoned Kikola. "Sit." He gestured at a chair opposite him.

Kikola approached the table and sat. Taliss was flanked by two slaves, one held a jug of wine; the other held a jug of water.

"Would you like something to eat?" He waved his hand over the array of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and delicacies arranged on the naked woman lying before him.

Kikola had no interest in eating off a naked woman, but she did not want to appear rude. "Thank you, Supreme-Aloyd," said Kikola. She picked up a pair of chopsticks and helped herself to a piece of meat.

"I notice that the Otopans are still there," he said conversationally, concentrating on picking up a sliver of raw fish from between the woman's breasts.

"Yes, Supreme-Aloyd. They are preparing for departure."

"Yes, so I have been informed. Please help yourself to more."

"Captain Eadmon," stated Kikola.

"Indeed. I did rebuke her for contacting me. It's your duty to inform me after all. Perhaps you should reprimand her as well."

"I will. The Otopans request a few days to complete their departure."

"Very well."


"Give them the time they need." He finally looked at Kikola. "Were you expecting me to say something else?"

"I had thought you might be a little more impatient."

He chuckled. "I want Otopa under our rule. It looks like you're going to deliver it without us getting involved in a war with the Empire." He lifted a thin slice of meat from the woman's upper thigh. "Try this," he held the meat out to Kikola. "The meat dissolves in your mouth and has a wonderful aftertaste that is… sort of fruity, nutty, sweet, and savoury all at the same time. Go on, try it."

Kikola took the proffered meat and put it in her mouth. It was everything Taliss said it was.

"Of course," continued Taliss, "I would have preferred a direct conflict. My time in service is growing short and one final glory would be the perfect end to my career. But The Council believes your approach is worthy."

"Do you think it's worthy?" asked Kikola, helping herself to a piece of fruit.

"No. But it might benefit us, and you, in the long term."

"What do you mean?"

"You need a drink – wine or water?"

"Water, thank you."

Taliss signalled the water bearer. The slave produced a goblet from under the table and walked around to Kikola.

As Kikola took a drink, Taliss continued.

"You have a great destiny ahead of you, Aloyd Karthen – one of which I am envious. Otopa is but the first step. Not even that. Call it an aperitif before the main meal. The Council has set their sights on the independent Graelands in the Harinder sector. Specifically the systems from Trengos to Cailoris."

Kikola mentally plotted the systems on the galactic map. "That would extend our border with the Empire for about another thousand light years, right up to the Seconthan Republic."

"Precisely. The Council are thinking long term. You have been chosen to lead the conquest of the Graelands. Then the Andantian Republic. Then maybe twenty or thirty years from now you'll lead an invasion of the Empire. The attack can come at them from nearly all sides." He smiled wistfully. "They will not be able to stop us." The smile faded. "Stop you."

"The Council have told you all this?"

"Who do you think helped them formulate such a grand strategy?" he said with pride. "You'll lead the greatest triumph The Hegemony has ever seen – even greater than the previous Rivelor, your great-grandfather, Petril ap Karthen."

"Previous?" Kikola queried the use of that word.

"Yes. You have been chosen as the latest Rivelor. Perhaps the last ever The Hegemony will need."

The title 'Rivelor' was not used often, but every Elit knew the meaning of it. It was the title conferred on the aloyd that leads the great expansions: the ones that oversee the conquering of thousands of systems and the permanent eradication of enemies. It was a great honour for the family of the Rivelor. Normally Kikola herself would be unmoved by the honour, but Tehvay's presence had awakened her emotions that she had spent a lifetime supressing. A surge of pride welled up, replaced by one of fear. Fear that leading the battle as Rivelor would destroy what she had with Tehvay. Outwardly, though, Kikola accepted the news without sentiment.

"I serve The Hegemony and The Council."

"Yes, as well you should," Taliss replied. "With the Empire defeated, the rest of the Spur will crumble. Your place in history is secured. If you pull it off."

"What do you mean 'if I pull it off'? Do you doubt my abilities?"

He shook his head. "However, plans go awry, even for the best of us." Taliss regarded Kikola with a knowing look, which did not go unnoticed. "As I said, I had hoped for conflict with the Empire. The attempt on your life on Otopa should have been enough. But The Council wanted to see what you would do. It seems saving a worthless slave was a masterstroke on your part. I would never have thought of that. It seems my failure has secured your destiny."

Kikola's mind replayed his words over and over again to try and make sense of them. She could not comprehend what he had said. "Are you saying that you hired someone to attempt to kill me? On Otopa? The attempt on my life was your doing?"

"Yes." Taliss admitted it as if it was of no concern and selected a piece of fruit to pop into his mouth.

"Why? Why would you try to destroy The Hegemony's future plans?"

"It wouldn't destroy them. Just delay them a bit. If you fail, a Taliss will be selected to enact the plans."

"Are you telling me that you deliberately tried to have me killed to further the Taliss Family's reputation? You put your own family's prestige ahead of The Hegemony?"

"Two Rivelors, two Karthens. Are you telling me someone in your family didn't do something to make that happen?" Taliss gave her a smug look. "Tell me you wouldn't do the same."

Kikola stood up.

"I would not." She pulled out her sidearm and shot him between the eyes.



Boran Zerbilla sat in the co-pilot's seat in the cockpit of the Glyndwr , staring out at the bluish-hued stars up ahead and sipping a cup of hot tea. He felt comfortable in the darkened cockpit surrounded by the lights of the controls. It gave him a sense of womb-like tranquillity. Ever since he first sat in a cockpit of a ship when he was a child, it struck a chord somewhere deep inside him. He sometimes felt that this was as close to perfect pleasure as he could get. He had been a pilot once, but found he could make more money hiring them to fly for him. And that appealed more.

But this was no pleasure trip for Boran or his companions on the journey, Hila and Kamina. That's because somewhere out there was a young woman who was like a daughter to him, and he was determined to rescue her. That should, in the words of an old friend of mine, make me a 'big damn hero'. So why do I feel like an idiot? Boran thought.

They had information that Aloyd Karthen, and by association, Tehvay, were on Otopa.

Boran prided himself on being aware of every detail that could affect his business, and he knew that The Hegemony had access to Otopa every five years. If a wet behind the ears aloyd was being sent, then the system wasn't about to become a war zone. He would hate to think of Tehvay being caught up in that.

His common sense was telling him that he was going to get himself killed. That even getting close enough to Tehvay to affect a rescue was a near impossible task. But as long as there was even a one in a million chance of success, he was not going to give up. And he was prepared to spend all of his time and wealth in pursuit of even that one shred of hope.

He was disturbed from his reverie by Kamina as she slipped into the fold down jump seat behind the pilot's chair. He nodded a greeting as she sat.

"Mr. Zerbilla, w—"

"Boran. Mr. Zerbilla was my father," he interrupted her.

"Boran, would you mind telling me more about Tehvay? I feel like I'm off on a big adventure to rescue her, and I don't know anything about her."

"No, I don't mind." Boran took another sip of his tea and turned in his seat so he could see Kamina better.

"When I first laid eyes on Tehvay she was a meek, obedient slave. Her owner at the time was one Faelene Gallish. I had gone to see Gallish, because I had learned that she was setting me up to take the fall over a shipment of parts. She had been paid for the parts, but before she paid her people to make them, she gambled the money and lost. When her customer asked where his parts were, she said she'd shipped them using my services and that he should take it up with me."

"This Faelene Gallish sounds like a real piece of work," Kamina said.

"That's not even the half of it." Boran grimaced, "Excuse me." He let out a groan as he stood up from the cramped confines of the co-pilot's seat and took the fold down seat next to Kamina.

"Getting old," he explained. "So, when I showed up, Gallish knew she was in trouble. So she offered Tehvay to me, telling me to do whatever I wanted to her – beat her, rape her, kill her. Gallish assumed I was as evil and heartless as she was. And like an obedient slave, Tehvay stepped forward offering herself to me, because her owner had ordered it." Boran took a sip of his tea in an attempt to swallow his outrage at the memory of it.

"Then what happened?"

"I shot Gallish dead – not for trying to set me up, but for her bloody evil, vile treatment of this young slave girl."

Boran paused at this point in the story. He was finding it hard to be detached from the emotions of the incident and the circumstances of how he and Tehvay had met.

"I never owned a slave or even traded in illegal slaves, but I wouldn't say I was strongly anti-slavery until that point. However, seeing Tehvay being degraded in such a despicable manner by Gallish, as though she were… just…" Boran could feel anger building and shook his head to dispel it. "Well, it had me way beyond rage. So much so, that it took me several moments to realise my IPB was in my hand and had been discharged."

"What did Tehvay do while all this was happening?" Kamina said with great interest.

Boran straightened up in the jump seat and said with a sense of sadness, "Nothing. She stood there and never even flinched. Tehvay had no reaction to me standing over the dead body of her owner. When I tried to take her hand and lead her away she looked confused; she resisted slightly and bowed her head. Then, with no trace of emotion in her voice, she asked, 'Are you going to kill me now?'"

"She did? I would have scarpered the moment you pointed that weapon!" Kamina confessed.

"But you're not a slave. When you're brainwashed to follow orders and not think for yourself, you don't run. At least Tehvay didn't. "

"Is that when you rescued her?"

Boran lifted his head. "No, that is when she rescued me."

"I don't understand?"

He offered a wry smile to the teenager. "Maybe that's a good thing." The wry smile turned to a grimace as he stood up. "This seat is killing my back," he moved back to the co-pilot's seat and gestured for Kamina to take the pilot's seat.

Once they were both settled, he continued his story. "I've got a daughter, Tana. She lives with me. Likes spending my money. Even helps me earn it. We get along okay, I guess, but we're not what you'd call close.

"I didn't get to raise her, or even see her, until she was seven. Her mother left with Tana soon after she was born, then turned up seven years later and dumped her on me. I did my best, but we never really bonded. She was too much like her mother by that point."

"That's a shame," said Kamina. "I was adopted when I was thirteen, but I got real close with my adopted parents."

Boran nodded. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming Tana, or excusing myself. But Tehvay was different. I was older and wiser, Tehvay was like a…tabula rasa. Are you familiar with that term?"

Kamina shook her head.

"It's an ancient term used by philosophers. It means something like 'empty page'. It's used to describe a person with no experience or perception of things. That a person in that state can be moulded to be whatever you want. That a person is not inherently good or bad, or clever or stupid. They are dependent on what they're taught and the environment they are taught in. Slaves are empty and kept empty. After my failure with Tana, I saw an opportunity to get it right. Does that make sense?"

Kamina shrugged. "I guess so."

"I wanted to help Tehvay develop a moral compass so she could make her way in the world, but how could I teach her if I was blurring the lines between right and wrong? So, I started to do more legitimate business. I started to be pickier about what sort of illicit deals I did. I could have made a fortune shipping drugs, weapons and such like, but people still needed food, tools, and medicine; that's the market I started to concentrate on. I was still making a sizeable profit, and it eased my conscience a bit to know that I could be a good influence in Tehvay's life."

Kamina leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"For being a nice guy."

"That's sweet, but I'm not."

"Not what?" asked Hila, entering the cockpit.

"Nothing." He waved his free hand to dismiss the conversation while he took another sip of tea.

Hila ignored him and spoke to Kamina. "The shower's free."

"Great!" Kamina jumped out of the pilot's chair. "Hope you left some hot water," she called as she headed off to the bunkroom.

Hila dropped down into the seat vacated by Kamina and watched her leave. The businessman regarded the pilot over the top of his cup. Her hair was still damp and she was glowing, but not from the shower, he guessed. "Why don't you share the shower?" he asked. "You share a bed."

A guilty look flashed across Hila's face. "That's different."

"I told you, Kamina didn't need to give up her bunkroom for me, I could've set up a cot in the lounge."

"I know, but we don't mind bunking together."

Boran gave Hila a knowing smile. "I didn't think you'd need a dumb excuse like me to make that happen."

Hila blushed a little as she quickly denied what he was implying. "We're just friends. As I said, sharing a bed is different to sharing a shower." Hila looked towards the cockpit door. "Though I bet if we did, she'd hog all the hot water like she hogs the covers," she muttered under her breath.

"Yeah, right, 'just friends'… who like to share a bed."

"What, you've never had to share a bed with another man?"

"Had to share? Not platonically, no." There was a twinkle in his eye. "Besides I've seen the way you two check each other out when you think the other one isn't looking. It's classic. If there were any more sexual tension in here, I'd need a machete to cut through it!"

"No… really? I mean, I uh," Hila stammered and sputtered before denying there was anything more than deep platonic friendship between them.

"And I thought you were a woman of action," Boran replied.

"She's just a kid. She doesn't know what she wants."

"' There are none so blind as those who refuse to see' ," Boran recited. "Kamina is old enough to know what – and who she wants. And it's obvious to me that you want her as well."

Hila didn't reply at first. "Maybe after we find Karthen and Tehvay," Hila said, "Kami and I will have that talk."

"Hey, I'm not one to stick my nose into your affairs, but you know I'm fond of you – and Kamina. I would hate for the two of you to live in unrequited misery all because you were afraid—"

"Me, afraid? Afraid of what?" Hila asked with feigned protest.

"You tell me," Boran replied. He paused to give Hila a chance to look inward for her answer. When there were none immediately forthcoming, he said, "If you won't be honest with me, then at least be honest with yourself."

Hila finally spoke. "There are things… things in my past that if Kamina found out," she paused. "Well, she wouldn't understand."

Boran regarded his friend with sympathy. "We all have a past, things we regret, and secrets we don't want revealed. But take it from me… you can't let your past ruin your chances for a future with Kamina. She loves you, and I would bet my fortune that who you are now is all that matters to Kamina."

Boran noted Hila's contemplative silence and changed the subject. He sipped his tea and shivered. "Doesn't your heating unit work?"

Hila shook her head. "Something broke about a year ago. It won't get above seventeen Celsius, but that's enough to keep me from freezing to death in space, so it's good enough. It's not that bad once you get used to it, your problem is you're acclimatised to the desert heat on Shibato."

"I haven't slummed like this in decades," Boran carped teasingly.

"Hey, that's my ship you're talking about!" Hila tried to sound offended but failed by a long way.

"Yeah, well with what I pay you, you could sell it and buy a new one," Boran said.

"You don't pay me that well," Hila replied, "and besides, the old girl has become home to me – the only home I have."

Boran looked Hila directly in the eye. "About that. There is something I have been meaning to discuss with you. I have made provisions – if I don't come back from this caper and you do, I mean."

"What are you talking about?"

"Who will take over the business in the event of my death. Tana is looking after the business while I'm away."

"Is that wise?"

"For all her failings as a human being, Tana has a head for business - at least my business. It brings in the money and she loves money more than anything. She'll make sure the business continues to make money in my absence – besides Marleen, Tremothen and some of the others are there to keep an eye on things."

Hila nodded.

"Anyway, that is only until I get back," continued Boran. "If something happens to me, then I want you to know that I have made provisions in my will for you and Kami. You'll get a good share in the business."

"What did Tana say?" Hila replied.

"Tana kicked up a fuss when I told her, but I think it was mostly for show. I don't know if she has any interest in running the business long term, but she will need your help dealing with the more sinister elements of my business, you know what I mean?"

"Sure. I'll look after her."

Boran nodded. "And if by some miracle we rescue Tehvay, and I don't make it, I've made provisions for her as well. Tehvay will get an equal share of the business with Tana. In this case, I fear Tana may not take it well and do something stupid."

"Say no more. I'll look after Tehvay and keep Tana in check."

"I sometimes wish you were my daughter, Hila," he sighed. "Then I wouldn't have to make all these provisions. I know you'll do the right thing."

"Hey! Stop it, will ya. You'll make me cry." Hila pretended to wipe tears from her cheeks.

"You can't bullshit me, Llyte. You may want people to think you're a cold-hearted business woman, but I know who you really are."

"You do?" Hila said nervously.

Boran winked knowingly. "Yes, you are just as soft and sentimental as the rest of us." He leaned in and patted Hila on the arm, his voice soft-spoken and sincere. "It's difficult for two old pirates like us to be open with our feelings, but you never know when it will be your last day. So just in case, I just want you to know that I value our business relationship, I enjoy our friendship, and I care about you like you were family."

"Boran, you know how I feel about you, even if I don't say it," Hila looked uncomfortable when she spoke. "I've known you longer than anybody else. You were the first person I ever did business with. You trusted me at a time when I didn't trust anyone. You took me for who I was and taught me everything I know. You have always been fair. And for that, you have earned my respect and my trust. There are precious few people I could say that about."

Boran smiled, gave Hila's arm a gentle squeeze, and picked up his teacup again. As he finished the last drop of the lukewarm liquid, he recalled the pretty young woman who had sidled up to him in a bar on Tageloc and said that she had a business proposition for him. At the time, he was a forty-year-old man with wavy brown hair and stood just short of two metres tall. Some considered him good looking, though he didn't for one minute think she was one of them. He assumed she was a prostitute, but after taking in how she was dressed – in dark trousers and bulky jacket – he quickly dismissed that thought. She was no prostitute – at least not one who wanted to attract a male clientele.

Another thing that struck him was her accent. He could only describe it as odd, as if she was just learning to speak the language, but there was an underlying tone that hinted at her origin. It wasn't a tone that pinpointed a planet or sector, but something else; still, he didn't care. In his line of work, curiosity about a person's personal business was a liability. She had intrigued him enough that he heard her out.

"Do you know that you pay Doletule ten thousand to carry your parcels and it only costs him about one thousand in expenses?" she whispered.


"I can do it for five thousand."

"That's nice, kid. Is there a point to your story?"

"I am not greedy. Four thousand profit suits me and you save yourself five thousand."

Boran could see she was scared… no, not scared, excited. This was something new to her and she was enjoying it. There was something about her that he liked, and not just her pretty face, which she had obviously bought; from the perfectly shaped nose to the perfectly sculpted cheek bones to the perfectly profiled chin, not to mention eyes the shade of blue that could only come from a catalogue.

He reached in to his pocket and pulled out some credits and put them on the bar. "How many credits is there," he nodded at the pile.

She counted quickly. "Four hundred."

"Pocket change," he said. "Four hundred, four thousand, ten thousand. They are small numbers to me. If Doletule is making nine thousand profit on my deals with him, then he's a good businessman. I only deal with good businessmen. That five thousand you think I can save if I use you is not wasted. It buys me someone I can trust to do the job I ask them to do."

She opened her mouth to speak but he cut her off. "If I trusted you as much as I trust him, then I'd be paying you ten thousand and not five thousand. And for the level of trust I have in you, someone whose name I don't even know, I wouldn't be paying you as much as five thousand."

He pushed the four hundred credits towards her. "I admire your b…" he chuckled, "I was going to say balls, but you clearly don't have them. Your bravado. If you want to earn my trust, come and see me in my office and we'll discuss what you can do. Starting at the bottom, of course."

"Where is your office?"

"On Shibato." Boran slipped her a holographic card with the address and gestured to the credits. "Put that towards a ticket. If you can find the rest of the credits needed to buy a ticket and show up, then I'll know you're serious."

"When are you leaving here?" she asked as she pocketed the credits. "I wouldn't want to get there before you and have to wait."

"I'm leaving now," he said. "What name should I expect to hear when you arrive?"

She appeared to think for a moment as if she didn't know her name. "Hila," she said. "Hila Llyte."

"Then I'll see you soon, Miss Llyte."

And he had seen her soon. She was waiting for him when he arrived on Shibato. Thus began their long association, one that had grown into friendship.

Boran regarded Hila as she sat across the cockpit from him: she was no longer an eager teenager, but a confident, savvy woman. "You were barely eighteen when we first met, and you didn't even have a ship."

"I bought this ship with money I made working for you."

"You and I both know I paid you peanuts back then; it wouldn't have covered ten per cent of the deposit."

"I had some money put by before I met you."

"You hadn't worked long enough to earn that money. Maybe you inherited from family, eh?"

"Something like that," Hila replied.

Boran waved a hand to dismiss the thread of conversation. "That's all irrelevant, anyway. What matters is the future. Orion willing, we will all get back safe and sound."

Boran didn't want to become maudlin, so he changed the subject back to the heating system. "This chase could take quite a while. We'll stop somewhere, and I'll pay to get the heating system fixed."

"We don't want to let the trail go 'cold'." Hila smiled at the pun she made.

"Ha, ha," he replied. "If I'd known the heat wasn't working, I'd have arranged for us to use one of my ships!"

"Over my cold, dead body," Hila said.

"It might be 'my cold dead body' if you don't get it repaired soon. How long will it take us to get to Otopa?"

Hila glanced at a read-out next to her. "Another hundred and seventy three hours and thirty minutes."

"And how quickly could the heating be fixed?"

"I don't know, a few hours I guess. We'd have to find a spaceport with the parts, and it's unlikely they could fix it right away. There's always a wait."

"Not when they're offered the right amount of credits."

Hila leaned forward and looked at the navigation map on the console. "Hmm, actually the best place for us to get the repairs done is Dameb."

"By the time we get to the system it is unlikely that Karthen will still be on Otopa," Boran said. "I'll speak to my contact on Dameb when we arrive, and you can get this ruddy heater fixed. My balls are getting frostbite!"


When they arrived on Dameb, Hila made arrangements for a repair crew to fix the heating system while Boran called his contact at the spaceport controller's office. If anyone knew the whereabouts of Karthen's striker group in the Otopa system, it would be them.

While Hila and Boran were off chasing information as to the whereabouts of their quarry, Kamina stayed behind and waited for the spaceport maintenance team to come and repair the ship's heating unit. Kamina used her personal comm unit to call Hila and fill her in. "The maintenance crew is here."

"Did they say what was wrong?"

"It's not as bad as you thought. The heating core was shot, not the whole compressor, so they're replacing it now. It will take about two hours."

"Well, we're still waiting for Boran's contact to show up. Do you want to come join us?"

"If it is all the same to you, I thought I would take a walk and stretch my legs. There's a park nearby."

"Why don't you stay put? I don't like the idea of you wandering around alone in a place we know very little about. And besides, it will be dark in a few hours."

"You worry too much. Besides, I have spent most of my life in a sealed city, so any chance to get out in a natural atmosphere and feel real sunshine on my skin is not to be wasted."

"Promise me you will be careful."



Rumours, speculation, guesses. That was all the information Boran's contact could offer on Karthen's whereabouts. Boran and Hila wanted hard facts.

"What?" Ilistan spread his arms wide as if challenging them. "I'm privileged to military information all of a sudden?"

Ilistan was around forty years old, yet still blessed with the attitude and style of a teenager from the 1580s. Hila thought his clothes, baggy black and white striped shirt, jacket and trousers, belonged in a museum, and the ridiculous way he threw his arms around and seemed to grin after every expansive gesture made her want to punch him.

The style of the man was in stark contrast to his apartment. Sleek, modern and well appointed, he either earned a good salary or property was cheap on Dameb.

"This happens!" He gestured wildly at nothing in particular and grinned. "That happens!" He repeated the gesture. "What am I supposed to know, huh?"

"You must know something," said Hila trying to remain calm.

"Come on, Il," Boran said.

Hila was losing patience and wanted to get away before she resorted to violence. Boran had told her how irritating Ilistan's manner could be, but said the guy was honest.

"I told you!" Again the arms flailed and again the grin. "The two big ships arrive! They go to Otopa! Other ships arrive! They go there! They come here! A few days later they go away, yeah!"

"What do you know that you're not telling us?" pressed Hila.

Boran's friend ignored her. "Look, Bo," Ilistan seemed to lose his energy. "I've got to look out for myself. You understand? Military ships go where the military want them. If they think I know, I end up feeding the plants, yeah!"

"You know me, Il, I'm not going to say anything."

"No! You're chasing these ships!" He became animated once more. "They go somewhere, you follow! You follow, you get caught! You get caught, they want answers! Even if you don't give them answers, they work it out! They're not stupid!"

"Karthen's ships left Dameb. Do you know where they filed their flight plan to?"

"Am I not being heard? I don't know the movement of military ships!"

"You work at the spaceport," Hila said through gritted teeth.

"Which is commercial and private traffic. Not military."

"You still control all flight paths in the system," said Hila. "If the military are flying here, they pass through your monitored space. They request a clear path and you make sure it's clear. They might not tell you details of the ship, who's on it, and the ultimate destination. But you're a smart guy, you can work it out."

He made another one of his arm gestures directly at Hila. "Where did you get her from, Bo?"

Finally, Hila had enough of the evasion and flailing arms. She punched him in the fleshy part of his shoulder.

"Ow!" Ilistan cried out.

"Hila!" cried Boran. "Sorry, Il."

"Get her out of here, Bo!"

Boran gave her a stern look, but she could tell it was just for Ilistan's benefit.

"I'll wait outside," said Hila, "and you tell Boran what you know, otherwise I'll come back in and he'll wait outside."

Hila left the apartment and waited in the hallway. A few minutes later Boran came out.

"Did he talk?" asked Hila.



Boran glanced over his shoulder and started to direct Hila away from the door.

"He doesn't know for sure, but suspects they went to Timar," whispered Boran.

"Then why didn't he tell us straight away?"

Hila spoke in a normal tone and Boran warned her to keep it quiet.

"Because he's heard rumours. Something happened at the military base here on Dameb."

"What happened?" whispered Hila, obeying Boran's suggestion.

"He doesn't know. All he does know is the base was locked down shortly after Karthen's ship came back from Otopa, and it's still locked down. Ships are starting to take off and land, but no ground traffic allowed in or out of the gates. He knows people who work at the base, and they've not been seen since."

"What does he think happened?"

"He doesn't want to speculate. My guess is something happened that the military desperately wants covered up."


Kamina put her jacket on the grass and leaned back. As she did, her hand came up to shield her eyes from the solar rays. She thought it ironic to be basking in warm sunshine while waiting for the ship's heating to be fixed.

The solar rays felt good on her skin, and soon Kamina relaxed and closed her eyes, allowing her thoughts to drift towards a certain freighter captain with piercing blue eyes and jet-black hair. Too bad Hila's off with Boran, she thought. It would have been a nice spot for a romantic picnic, just the two of us. Kamina drifted off to sleep with images of Hila's beautiful face warming her insides.

Sadly though, Kamina's mini-holiday was short-lived, because the day on Dameb was only fourteen hours long and the planet's sun was rapidly sinking towards the horizon. So, Kamina climbed to her feet, picked up her jacket, and started heading back to the spaceport. In the increasing gloom, she saw a slender male figure loitering near the park's main gate. Growing up and surviving on the streets required one skill above all else: recognising trouble.

She turned to find another way out of the park, but what she found was a large, scruffy man with a knife, blocking her way.

How did he get so close behind me? she thought and cursed herself for not hearing him sneak up on her. She did, however, hear the accomplice by the gate jogging up behind her.

"Let's see what you got for me?" The man with the knife grinned, reaching out to snatch her jacket.

Kamina jerked her coat away and the man stumbled. She jinked the other way and took off running. She heard two sets of footsteps pursuing her, but didn't turn around. It was getting darker and she needed to find someplace to hide. Suddenly something whistled past her right ear and hit the ground a metre in front of her. It was a knife. A less intelligent person might have stopped to pick it up, thinking they could turn and fight, or at least have a weapon if their chasers caught up, but Kamina was smarter. Let her pursuers slow down to pick it up.

There was a wall to her left, beyond which she could see the lighted street. The wall was low enough for her to clear on this side, but she didn't know how big a drop there was on the other side. She decided to take the chance, but as she reached the top of the wall, a hand grabbed her foot and pulled her back down.

Before she landed, Kamina swung her arm out. Her nails raked against skin and hair. The first rule of close quarters fighting that she had learnt was blood would scare most people. And the easiest thing to make bleed was someone's nose. Seeing the face bearing down on her, Kamina propelled her head forward, hoping to break a nose with her forehead. Unfortunately for her, her assailant dodged. She bumped into his shoulder and suddenly two pairs of hands had her pinned to the wall.

"Scream and you won't hear it," one of the attackers growled. He held a knife in front of her face.


The park was not quite on the route from Ilistan's apartment to the spaceport, but Hila insisted they walk that way. Kamina had told Hila she was going to the park and Hila thought they might see her and walk back to the ship together.

Twilight was upon them as they saw the far end of the park and a sight that tied Hila's stomach in knots.

"Is that—" Boran started to say.

Hila didn't hear the rest. She set off at a run with Boran following after her.

"Let her go!" she called out.

The muggers turned around and saw Hila and Boran. They looked surprised but not put off.

"Hila," Kamina called out.

There was a hint of a warning in the way Kamina called her name, and Hila sensed other members of the gang approaching.

"I know there's more," said Hila calmly. She took a step forward. "Boran, get Kami out of here."

Boran knew better than to argue, because he knew Hila was more than capable in a fight. For a middle-aged man, he was rather nimble and rushed over to Kamina, pushing the slender man to the ground. At the same time, Hila lashed out at the larger thug with a crisp roundhouse kick, which sent him sprawling. She didn't wait for him to get up. Instead she started running in the opposite direction, drawing the attackers further away from Boran and Kamina. The tactic worked.

In Hila's attempt to make herself the target of the thugs' attention, she had dealt a couple of blows to the nearest ones that had either drawn blood or cracked bones. A hand grabbed her shoulder from behind. Hila spun around, her knee connecting satisfyingly with a pair of testicles, and when her attacker doubled over, she landed a quick jab with her fist that made him spit blood.

From the corner of her eye she saw Boran and Kamina reaching the safety of the well-lit street. She stopped and allowed the assailants to close on her. She smiled inwardly as they cautiously surrounded her.

"You are so fucking dead," growled one of them.

"Really?" Hila asked calmly. "From where I'm standing, you're the ones looking bloody and beaten."

The five thugs converged on her from all sides, but they were careful to keep their distance. Only one, the larger of Kamina's two original attackers, dared to get closer. She assumed him to be the ringleader. He was a few years older than the rest of his gang. Hila could tell, because he was the only one who had facial hair and an angular jaw of a man closer to thirty. He stopped a metre in front of her. He loomed menacingly over her.

"Me and the lads are going to have a good time raping you," he said, "before we kill you." One hand started to undo his belt as the other hand was waving a knife in her direction.

Hila relaxed. She knew she had won. The fact that they had stopped to threaten her told her they were beaten.

"I would like you to get out of my way. I want to leave," she said in a neutral tone of voice.

The ringleader gave a guttural laugh. "Well we ain't—"

Hila took a deliberate step forward. The ringleader was taken off guard and moved backwards, a brief flash of fear crossed his face. He regained his composure and made the mistake of stepping across the imagined line Hila had drawn. Hila answered him by pulling her IPB from under her jacket and pointing it at him point blank. This time the gang leader jumped backwards with a nervous look twisting his features. Hearing the sound of the weapon powering up, the others needed no prompting to back away.

"I'll bid you gentlemen goodnight," said Hila. "And if you get any smart ideas, I'll start playing for keeps." She stared at the ringleader down the barrel of the weapon. "Bang!" she shouted.

The thug nearly jumped out of his shoes, while his followers scurried for cover.

Hila confidently walked away without as much as a glance backwards, knowing she had made her point. She could hear the leader telling his mates 'let's get out of here' and the rapidly departing footsteps behind her.

She returned the IPB to her jacket pocket and casually walked towards the park exit, where Boran and Kamina were anxiously waiting for her outside the gates under a streetlight.

"Are you all right?" Kamina asked with great concern.

"Yes," Hila said tersely. Her muscles were still filled with adrenalin and her senses heightened from the confrontation.

"No trouble, then?" Boran asked.

"No," Hila confirmed. "Let's get out of here and back to the ship."


While The Hegemony could hardly be called a lawless society in general, there were places that were more dangerous than others. Inside the spaceports were mostly safe, but Hila knew the areas immediately around them could be very unsafe, especially after dark. So as they made their way back to the ship, Hila kept her hand on the weapon inside her jacket and one eye on the lookout in case there was any more trouble.

Once they reached the safety of the ship, the three of them made their way to the lounge area just outside the cockpit. Hila, who normally had ice running through her veins, couldn't keep all the pent up tension and worry from spilling out. She took her IPB out of her pocket and slammed it on the lounge table. "Of all the irresponsible, dangerous things to do!" she said angrily. "What were you doing at that park at sundown? Do you realise you could have been injured – or worse! I knew I should have never allowed you to leave the ship!"

Kamina's face showed shock at Hila's admonishment and she defended her actions just like a fighter answering the blows of an opponent. "I didn't ask for your help! I had everything under control."

"And just what were you going to do against five of them, eh?" Hila scoffed.

"Well, I certainly wouldn't have yelled 'Bang' like a horse's arse!" Kamina returned.

Boran stepped in to calm the two women down before things were said that neither of them meant. "Hila, aren't you grateful that Kamina wasn't hurt?"

Hila immediately felt the anger leave her body. "Of course."

Boran turned to Kamina. "And aren't you relieved and thankful that Hila followed her instincts and insisted we come find you?"

Kamina released the tension bound up in her shoulders and neck. "Yes, I am – very thankful."

Boran smiled and stepped back, allowing Hila to gather Kamina into her arms.

"Are you sure you are all right?" Hila asked as she held the younger woman close.

"Yes." Kamina sighed with relief against the dark-haired woman's chest.

They stayed locked in an embrace for a few moments, until the fear was spent, and peace filled the room.

Kamina turned to Boran. "And thank you for coming to my aid."

"It's always good to have a bit of back up, isn't it?" said the older man, which garnered a smile from the young woman. He changed the subject. "I don't know about you two, but I'm hungry,"

Kamina agreed. "Yes, so am I. Let's go out and get something to eat."

"I think we've had enough adventure for one day," Hila said. "We'll eat in."


"No buts," Hila said firmly.

"I'll call and get something delivered," said Boran and headed to his bunk leaving the two women alone in the lounge.


"It's Kamina, and I know what you're going to say—"

"No you don't."

"Yes, I do – that I should have known better, that I should have been more careful."

"You could have easily been killed."

"But I wasn't, thanks to you and Boran. So you can stop worrying about me."

"That's just it, I can't. If anything had happened to you—"

"It didn't."

"But, if anything were to happen to you… I don't know what I would do."

"Find yourself another annoying kid to tag along, I suppose," Kamina replied, not recognising that Hila was being sincere.

Hila winced a little. I deserved that . "I don't want anyone else. I want you."

"I bet you say that to all the girls," Kamina said half-jokingly.

"No, I haven't said it to anyone else… before now."

"Said what?"

Hila didn't answer. Her brain was overloaded with variations on how this scenario would play out.

Kamina waited patiently.

Finally Hila answered her. "I kind of live for the now. Only, the now is fleeting, and I want something for tomorrow. I… I... want… you."

"I'm not sure what you're saying."

Hila dared to close the gap between them and took Kamina's hands in hers.

"I'm saying I… love you. I am in love you."

Kamina couldn't contain her joy. "Oh, Hila. I love you too. I am in love with you! I have been for ages."

"You were? You are?" Hila said with surprise. "Why didn't you say something? All this time I just assumed you didn't see me like that."

"Are you kidding? All those nights you went off alone, all those other lovers… I was so jealous. I wanted it to be me. I wanted to be the one you went home with, the one you took into your arms…the one whose body you craved."

"And all this time I thought, how could someone as young and as pretty as you go for an old dodgy spacer like me?"

"To begin with, you are not 'old' and you are most certainly not a 'dodgy spacer'. In fact, you are the sexiest, most incredibly beautiful woman in the whole universe!" Kamina squealed with delight. "I can't believe this is happening!" Kamina leaned back warily. "This is happening, right? I am not dreaming it – you really are in love with me?"

Hila chuckled a little and said, "Yes, Kami – I am in love with you."

Aware that her palms were beginning to sweat, Hila let go of Kamina's hands. As if she could sense Hila's nervous energy, Kamina met Hila's gaze, smiled reassuringly, and allowed her eyes to close.

Hila leaned down and softly pressed her lips to Kamina's. There was an immediate spark. Hila drew Kamina to her and chanced kissing the young woman more fully on the lips. Kamina was more than responsive. She put her arms around Hila's neck and sought to deepen the kiss even more. Hila relaxed her mind and allowed her heart to take over. Their bodies pressed together as their tongues playfully fuelled their mutual desire.

Boran came back into the lounge area. "The food is here. I hope you are hungry—" He stopped in his tracks. "Ahem." Boran cleared his throat politely.

By reflex, Hila pulled away from Kamina. The younger woman wiped her mouth and grinned.

"'Just friends' my foot," he said out loud.

Hila gave him a sheepish smile and said, "Okay, more than 'just friends'."

"Much more," Kamina added.

"The food is in the galley if you want any."

Hila looked at Kamina wondering what to do next, but the teenager had her own idea. She took Hila's hand and started heading in the direction of Hila's bunkroom.

"That's okay," Kamina said to Boran. "We'll have it for breakfast."

When they entered the room, Hila turned on the lights and swallowed hard. She could read all the emotions on the dark haired girl's face: excitement, eagerness, lust, nervousness – love.

She offered Kamina a smile shaded with uncertainty. "I realise all this is sudden… erm… I…" Hila silently cursed herself for the inelegant way she tried to relieve the awkwardness she was suddenly feeling.

Kamina didn't appear to be listening and was intent on dragging Hila to bed. Hila dug her heels in, and her resistance finally brought Kamina to a halt.

"You don't want this?" asked Kamina. Her voice was small and close to breaking.

Hila knew this situation was a minefield that needed to be carefully navigated lest it blew up in her face. "Of course I do. I just want to slow things down a bit."


"Oh," Kamina said disappointedly. She dropped her head and allowed her hair to fall in front of the scar on her left cheek.


Hila reached out with her right hand and gently moved the hair away from Kamina's face exposing the scar. Kamina lowered her eyes and moved her head away allowing the hair to fall back and cover the scar. Hila moved the hair off her face again.


When Kamina tried to move it again, Hila stopped her. "Kami, you never have to hide your beautiful, perfect face from me." She leaned forward and kissed Kamina's scar.

Hila took a step back. She wanted to clearly see the truth when she asked the next, most important question. "Kami please, look into my eyes and tell me again. Are you sure this is what you want—that I am what you want?"

Kamina met Hila's gaze without hesitation and beamed. "Yes. Oh, yes Hila." She threw her arms around Hila's neck.

Hila wasn't prepared for such enthusiasm and fell onto the bed with Kamina on top of her. It wasn't the most romantic way to start, but it broke the ice.

"Are you going to talk all night, or are you going to kiss me?" Kamina asked playfully.

Hila hesitated. "Kami, I… I don't want to spoil the mood, but have you… you ever…"

"Had sex before? Yes." Kamina leaned over and placed a kiss on the tip of Hila's nose. "But not with a woman."


"Hila. I know what to do. Well, in theory." Kamina slid down Hila's body and kissed Hila on the neck. "And if…" She slid some more and kissed Hila on the chest between her cleavage. "I get…" Another slide. She pushed up Hila's shirt and kissed her belly. "Anything wrong…" She tugged at Hila's trousers. "I'm sure you'll correct me." Her mouth found Hila's breasts and she eagerly devoured them.

Hila closed her eyes and arched her back when Kamina's teeth raked across her nipples. The pleasurable sensation shot to her groin. She let out a groan.

Kamina glanced up. "Am I doing it right?"

"Yes, you are doing it so right."

"Show me what to do next." The young woman pulled her bright green dress off over her head and flung it behind her without a care where it landed.

This was not how Hila imagined it would be. She thought that Kamina would be shy and that she would have to gently guide the young woman, but Kamina was bold and eager. Throwing uncertainty to the wind, Hila hooked her arm around Kamina's waist and flipped her on her back in one fluid motion. Hila kissed her young lover and smiled as she slowly descended.


After the shooting, there was pandemonium among Supreme-Aloyd Taliss' subordinates and slaves. His aides came rushing into the room as soon as they heard the shot. They found the aloyd's body slumped over the female slave off of whose naked body he had been feasting just a few moments before. She was screaming as the aloyd's blood drooled from his mouth, nose and ears onto her skin. In all of it, Kikola had calmly holstered her weapon and walked out. No one thought to stop and question her, or detain her.

Kikola returned directly to the Conqueror and went to her ready room.

She pressed a button on the comm panel. "Captain Wurth, this is Aloyd Karthen. Please come to my ready room."

A military officer killing another military officer was rare, but an aloyd killing another aloyd was unprecedented. Kikola knew she would have to submit herself to her superiors for court martial.

Wurth entered the ready room and saluted.

"At ease, Captain." Kikola took a deep breath. "I have shot and killed Supreme-Aloyd Taliss."

The captain's eyes flickered in surprise, but he otherwise maintained his posture. "May I ask why?"

"I think it is best if I contact Councillor Lentol first, before going into details. I require you to be present while I make that call."

"Yes, sir."

Kikola sat down at her desk and Wurth stepped up and stood by her side. The 3-D image of the Council Member for Military Operations, Ambra ap Lentol, appeared above the console.

In a crisp, emotionless, understated manner, Kikola repeated what she had told Captain Wurth.

Councillor Lentol was clearly taken aback by the news; however, she refrained from asking for details.

"I suggest you say nothing further until you have legal representation," Ambra said to Kikola. "Captain Wurth, confine Aloyd Karthen to her private quarters and proceed to the military base on Timar."

Wurth offered no comment or opinion in the matter. He had his orders and he did his duty. "Aloyd Karthen, you are hereby confined to your private quarters for the duration of the trip to Timar. May I have your weapon?"

Karthen knew it was now considered evidence and gave no resistance. She checked the safety and handed it over to Wurth.

Captain Wurth secured the weapon and called for a security detail to stand guard outside the ready room. He also contacted the Judicial Advocacy Department on the Sword , since the Conqueror had no JAD officer on board, and requested they send someone right away.

A few minutes later, a short woman in a light-grey uniform entered the ready room. She had an open, friendly face with dark-brown, almost black eyes offset by a severe, short cropped hair style.

"Aloyd Karthen, Captain Wurth, I'm Sub-Lieutenant Chappell Anari of the Judicial Advocacy Department," the woman said. "How can I be of service, sirs?"

Captain Wurth glanced at his superior officer, as though uncertain how or if he should answer.

"I need your services," Kikola responded.

"You're my client, sir?" Her face took on a quizzical look.


"Okay." Anari seemed to shake off the surprise at representing an aloyd, and her face brightened. "What exactly is the problem, sir?"

For the third time, Kikola told of what occurred on Dameb.

Only then did the enormity of what she had done sink in.


Tehvay first learned of the situation when Kikola entered her private quarters with an escort of armed guards and in the company of a junior officer that Tehvay had never seen before.

Tehvay was nearly beside herself with worry and concern for Kikola, but she dare not do or say anything, lest she compound Kikola's trouble by exposing their secret relationship. She knew she would have to play the dutiful slave and bide her time until they could get a moment alone.

Kikola seemingly ignored Tehvay and directed the junior officer to the dining room where they could conduct their interview, while the security guards took up positions at opposite ends of the aloyd's private quarters to ensure that she made no attempt to leave.

"Get me a drink of water, slave," said the female officer as she sat down and took out a data pad and placed it on the table in front of her.

Tehvay hesitated and risked a quick glance at Kikola. Who is this officer?

"Tehvay, bring some water for Sub-Lieutenant Anari, and I will have some too."

Okay, that's a name but what does she want?

Kikola sat on the opposite side of the table to Anari, with her back to the bulkhead. Tehvay placed a glass of water in front of Anari. She did the same for Kikola, and then retreated to a respectful distance. Neither of them chanced a second glance between them.

The young sub-lieutenant did nothing to acknowledge Tehvay's service. She took a sip of water and activated the data pad to record.

"First interview with Aloyd, First-Class Kikola ap Karthen in the matter of the alleged incident that took place on Dameb. Aloyd Karthen stands accused of killing a superior officer, Supreme-Aloyd Taliss."

Tehvay gasped when she heard of what Kikola was being accused. Anari paused the recording and glared over her shoulder at the slave. Tehvay quickly covered up her reaction with a cough and an apology for interrupting.

Anari took advantage of the break in proceedings to consult a reference document on her data pad.

"How old are you?" Kikola asked the advocate.

Anari looked up from her data pad. "Twenty-two, sir."

"And you are qualified to do this?"

"Yes, sir."

Anari's voice had a squeaky, nervous, childlike quality that grated on Tehvay's ears.

"How many times have you represented anyone?"

Anari averted her eyes and Tehvay detected a flush behind the dark skin of her cheeks.

Kikola sighed. "So none, then."

"No Aloyd. This is my first case."

"Where did you qualify in your class?"

"Eighteenth, sir."

"And how many were in your class?"

"Eighteen, sir. But it was an exceptional class, sir. I scored ninety-three point seven percent on my exams, sir."

"I see," Kikola said thoughtfully. "My family has several legal experts who could represent me."

"That won't be possible, sir. This is a military matter, sir."

"It is an Elit matter," said Kikola fervently.

"I beg to differ, sir."

Tehvay could see the aloyd's solid wall of restraint was beginning to fissure. Kikola stood up, circled around the table, and approached Tehvay. She glanced at Kikola, her eyes pleading for some explanation, some understanding. All Kikola could do was offer Tehvay a glimmer of reassurance with a subtle wink. That was all they could dare.

Kikola circled back and took her seat again. "All right, Sub-Lieutenant Anari, what do you propose to do?"

Anari looked up from her data pad. "Well, sir, I suggest we focus the blame on someone else, sir," Anari said brightly.

"There were witnesses who saw me."

"Who?" asked the JAD officer.

"His personal slaves."

"Slaves, sir?" Anari seemed bewildered. "Slaves are not allowed to give evidence in any legal matter, sir."

Aloyd Karthen gave a signal to pause the recording. "Stop punctuating every sentence with 'sir'; it is rather annoying."

"Sorry, s—Sorry."

Tehvay wanted to do something to break the tension in the room, for Kikola's sake, so she picked up a pitcher of water and proceeded to refill the half-empty water glasses on the table.

The sub-lieutenant took a sip of fresh water and then activated her data pad to continue recording. "Slaves not being able to testify actually works to our advantage."

"How so?" Karthen asked.

"Other possible suspects."

"Are you suggesting we blame the slaves?"

"Not Supreme-Aloyd Taliss' slaves. I am suggesting that we blame your slave." Anari looked down at the data pad and retrieved a document relating to the incident on Otopa. "The report says that it was severely injured in the attempt on your life. We assert that it was mentally damaged in the attack. It grabbed your weapon and shot Supreme-Aloyd Taliss."

Outwardly, Tehvay showed no reaction, but inside she was awash in fear and outrage. How could this otherwise benign young woman say something so heinous in such a casual manner? she thought. Before her freedom, Tehvay would have heard Anari's proposal and felt nothing, but now she wanted to cross the room, grab Anari by the collar, and shake her till she understood that Tehvay was a living breathing person and not a throwaway commodity.

Tehvay placed the water pitcher down on the side table with a little more force than was necessary. It was all she could do not to pour the water on the sub-lieutenant's head.

Again Anari paused the data pad recording and glared at Tehvay for another interruption. The young officer then looked to her superior officer. "Does it need to be here, Aloyd?"

"Tehvay, I will call you if I need anything else. You may go to your cell."

A look passed between them, and Tehvay understood that Kikola was trying to protect her from having to suffer further indignities.

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen," Tehvay replied and with one last look of concern for Kikola, she left the room.


After the JAD officer had left, Kikola immediately called Tehvay to come to her bedroom.

"Is she gone?" Tehvay asked.

"Yes," Kikola replied.

"What happened?"

"I promise I will tell you everything, but first I want to get out of this uniform. I feel… dirty. Will you help me?"

"Of course."

Once Kikola was showered and changed into clean underwear and a loose fitting robe, she sat on the edge of the bed and dried her hair.

"Perhaps you should rest for a while," said Tehvay.

"No, I am all right."

"When was the last time you ate anything?"

Kikola recalled the last time was in Taliss' office when she took a piece of meat off a naked slave's body. The thought of it made her feel ill and ashamed. "I am not hungry."

"Could you use a hug?"

The old Kikola would have equated affection as weakness, but not anymore. "Yes, I could use a hug."

Tehvay sat next to Kikola and the two women clung to each other – Kikola didn't want to be the first to let go, and judging by the way Tehvay was holding her, she suspected Tehvay felt the same. Eventually they did, and Kikola explained what happened in the rest of her meeting with the JAD officer.

"I made it very clear that no matter what, you weren't taking the blame for Taliss' death."

Tehvay looked visibly relieved. "Thank you. So what happens now?"

"Now, I remain confined to my quarters until we reach Timar. Then there will be a hearing, and maybe even a court-martial."

"And then what?"

"That is up to The Council."

Tears began to well up in Tehvay's eyes.

Kikola became deeply concerned. "What is the matter?"

"This all my fault."

"None of this is your fault," Kikola replied.

"It is. It must be. I must be cursed!"

Kikola concentrated her gaze on Tehvay. "Why would you think that?"

"Because something bad always happens to my good owners."

"What do you mean?"

"When I was about twelve, my second owners were a young couple with two young children. They never mistreated me. I was only with them for about a month before something happened."

"What happened?"

"I don't know. One night I was locked in my cell as usual. It wasn't unlocked the next morning. I spent nearly three days locked in the cell before security forces opened it. They didn't tell me what happened, and I never asked. As a slave you don't. I was taken away to a slave hostel and sold on."

"I thought all of your other owners, besides me, abused you."

"All the others did, but I was with my second owners for such a short time, and I was young, I barely remember them. I tend not to count them when thinking of my owners."

Kikola wanted to ask about them, but didn't want Tehvay to relive the pain.

"Yeah, all the others were bad," continued Tehvay with a sigh. "Faelene Gallish was the worst though." Tehvay looked Kikola in the eye. "She never touched me. And never ordered me to touch her."

Kikola frowned in puzzlement. "How is that bad?"

Tehvay lowered her eyes. "When an owner beats you or forces his cock so far down your throat you wanted to vomit, it is an acknowledgment of your existence. It is human contact and it means that you are alive. Gallish didn't even give me that. She just watched. She would order me to…" Tehvay shook her head.

Kikola was finding it almost too difficult to listen to Tehvay talk so openly about the details of the abuse she had suffered. It sickened Kikola to think that at the very least, she was part of a system that turned a blind eye to this kind of mistreatment – at worst that Elit actually participated in the physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of slaves. Anger and self-loathing rose up like bile, but she had to swallow it – for Tehvay's sake.

"You don't need to go on," Kikola offered.

"No. I think I must." Tehvay steeled herself and resumed. "Gallish would order me to abuse myself. She would sit there and watch as I masturbated with whatever object was at hand or sometimes she would give me a sex toy. When it looked like I was about to climax she would order me to stop. She never once showed that she was getting any enjoyment or arousal out of it. Her face would remain impassive and her hands never once ventured towards her...her…" Tehvay's voice trailed off.

"That was somehow more dehumanising," Tehvay continued, "the fact that she wouldn't even lower herself to touch me and didn't even react to what she ordered me to do." Tehvay paused. She lifted her eyes to look directly at Kikola. Tears welled up, but didn't fall. "Just a smile, that's all it needed. A smile or a nod or some kind of acknowledgement to show that the humiliation I was inflicting on myself was of some worth to her."

Until that point, Tehvay had related her experiences with clinical detachment, Kikola observed, but in giving voice to all the pain and humiliation she had suffered, a flood of emotions came pouring out of her in wave after wave of uncontrollable sobs.

Kikola felt so helpless, but she did the only thing she could think of to do. Kikola put her arms around Tehvay and held her close. "I am here," whispered Kikola. "Let me take your pain."

Tehvay buried her head in Kikola's chest and sobbed even harder.

As Kikola held Tehvay, she was beginning to realise that the woman with whom she was falling in love had only given Kikola the briefest glimpses into what an unspeakable life she was made to endure before they had met. Until now, Kikola had never experienced suffering from the victim's point of view before. The only pain in Kikola's life was the pain that she had inflicted.

She wondered if she would have the courage to tell Tehvay the details of her training at the Academy where she learned how to interrogate and to kill using live subjects.

She wondered if Tehvay could love her if she knew the level of pain she was capable of inflicting on others.

She wondered if she could still do it without a moment's hesitation or remorse now that Tehvay had opened her eyes to the depth of suffering that such cruelty inflicted.


Kikola leaned back in her ready room desk chair and waited for the call to connect. She had been given permission to discuss her case with her mother because of Mariantha's judicial expertise. As soon as her mother's image appeared, Kikola could read the look of disappointment and concern on her mother's face.

"Hello mother. How are you?" Kikola realised it was a ridiculous question, but she did not know what else to say.

"Never mind the pleasantries, do you realise what you have done?" asked the elder Karthen.

"I executed a traitor."

"You killed a superior officer. You killed an important member of one of the founding families."

"What is my legal position?"

"You killed an aloyd. For anyone else there would be only one fate, but for your crime, an aloyd killing an aloyd, there is no legal precedence."

"Taliss ceased being an aloyd the moment he tried to have me killed. That made him guilty of sedition. For that there is only one sentence and I carried it out."

"Not everyone sees it that way, and there is no supporting evidence," her mother replied.

"Yes there is. Taliss confessed to me that he had been the architect of the attempt on my life on Otopa. My word is all the proof they need."

"If only it were that simple, my daughter," Mariantha replied. "The Council is in session right now to decide what to do with you. Opinion is divided." Kikola's mother bowed her head. "Some are calling for your execution."

"Taliss was the traitor, and yet I am the one on trial," Kikola muttered. "Not only did he try to have me killed, he was trying to start a war between The Hegemony and the Losper Empire over Otopa." Kikola paused and remembered her training. "If The Council decrees I should be executed, I will not fight it."

"You have much to learn about Council politics, Kiko," her mother said. "The Taliss Family may have a lot of support on The Council, but then so does the Karthen Family. I believe reason will prevail and The Council will not allow you to be executed."

"What do you mean by 'not allow'?"

"Have you not been told yet?"

"Told what?"

"It was not just your career that was pre-ordained at birth; so was your life's mission: to lead the next great expansion of The Hegemony. Your training and education were above and beyond that of normal aloyds. Even as a child you were given special access to the Academy's educational resources through your Uncle Toman in order to prepare you for the trials you would face there."

Kikola leaned closer to the image of her mother. "Yes, Taliss mentioned the plans for the conquest of the Graelands, and ultimately, the Losper Empire. If I am to be executed, another aloyd will be selected. The Council do not have to save me."

"They do. No one has had the preparation and training you have had. The Council will have to assign the mission to an aloyd as yet unborn."

"The Hegemony is sixteen hundred years old; it can wait another thirty years if The Council decrees it."

"You sound like you have given up. That is not the daughter I have raised. That is not the aloyd you were trained to be."

"My fate is out of my hands one way or the other. What point is there to fight it?"

"One fate is more preferable than the other," her mother replied. "Fight for the better one and embrace it. Overcome this and be the Rivelor you are destined to become."

"Yes, Mother," she replied like the dutiful daughter she was; however, the propaganda no longer held the power it once might have had on her.

Kikola waited a moment before asking her next question. "Do you happen to know the process for legally releasing a slave from servitude?"


"In the event I am executed, I would give my personal slave, Tehvay, her freedom. It has served me well. It has earned it."

Mariantha lowered her eyes before delivering the bad news to her daughter. "The slave has to have been in service with its owner for at least ten years. The owner must petition the Slave Registration Board with a statement detailing why the slave has earned the right to freedom. The Board will then deliberate on the matter, seek corroborating evidence from anyone they can, and finally reach a decision. If they believe the case for freedom is worthy, then the owner pays a deregistration fee and covers any administration costs incurred in the process. That is it."

"Thank you," Kikola replied.

"Of course, even if you had owned it for ten years, it would not apply to your slave."

"Why not?"

"It was a fugitive. That negates any chance of freedom."

Kikola was disappointed by the news but did her best to hide it from her mother. "Very well. Thank you. Goodbye, Mother."

"Goodbye, Kikola. Be strong. We are all hoping for the best."

Kikola killed the connection and cursed.


Time on a space freighter in flight is not a fixed construct like it is on a planet, since there is no day or night in space. However, when on a planet, the ship's computers automatically adjusted to the local time. When the ship's environmental system lowered the lights, it was night; when it raised the lights, it was day. Those who made their living hauling freight across the galaxy got used to it.

The ambient lights gradually came up in Hila's bunkroom to simulate the rising dawn on Dameb. Hila was a light sleeper, and despite having had little sleep the night before, she awakened. Though the lights were still dim, Hila could see evidence of how the night had gone. Shirts, trousers, bras, and underpants were hastily tossed on the floor, and there was a naked figure sleeping next to her in bed. The first thing she had noticed when she opened her eyes was the lack of a hangover, so she couldn't use alcohol as an excuse – not that she was looking for one. She knew exactly what had happened and with whom.

Kamina stirred and nestled into Hila's body. Hila welcomed it and drew Kamina closer.

"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"

"What time is it?" Kamina said sleepily.

"Just a little after dawn, Dameb time," Hila replied.

"Morning already? We didn't get much sleep."

"It's a short night on Dameb. Are you tired?"

Kamina glanced up. "A little, why?"

"Well, we could turn off the lights and go back to sleep, or we could…" Hila threw the sheets back and shifted position, using her arms to suspend herself over Kami.

Kamina put her arms around Hila's neck and smiled. "Sleep is overrated."

Hila gazed into Kamina's sparkling brown eyes in wonder and awe that this beautiful young woman had managed to do what no one in a very long time had done – she made Hila feel loved.

"I love you," Hila said.

"I love you too," Kamina replied.

Hila kissed Kamina's soft, expectant lips, tasting faint traces of her own scent on the younger woman's mouth. There was no need for prolonged foreplay. Kamina's body immediately responded to Hila's touch. The teenager dropped her hands from around Hila's neck and glided them over Hila's back as Hila kissed her way down to Kamina's breasts with devotion. Hila used her thigh to spread Kamina's legs apart. Kamina rocked her hips against Hila's thigh, eagerly seeking more pressure to intensify her arousal. Hila relished the feel of Kamina's glistening skin as her hand moved along the contours of the girl's hips.

"You are so wet," Hila whispered in Kamina's ear as her fingers slid through the moist patch of curls to find Kamina's clit.

Kamina responded with encouraging moans.

Hila rubbed the hooded pearl until it was hard and throbbing. Kamina raised her hips higher and higher off the bed as she got closer and closer to climaxing. But, Hila had something special in mind for Kamina.

Kamina yelped when Hila took her hand away, but moaned with delight when she felt Hila's fingers enter her – first one then two. Hila was in no rush. She wanted to build Kamina's arousal slowly and steadily. She wanted to fill Kamina, to feel her vaginal muscles tighten around her fingers. She wanted to hear Kamina entreat her for more. When she thought Kamina was ready, she plunged her fingers in deeply and withdrew slowly and deliberately. Kamina met each thrust with her hips, her arousal more urgent the longer Hila's fingers lingered inside her. Hila knew there was a spot that when touched, would ignite a fireball deep within. Once more Hila drove her fingers up inside Kamina, then spread them slightly, and stroked the inner walls as she withdrew.

Kamina's hips bucked wildly and she screamed out her orgasm. Hila slowly withdrew her fingers as the last ripples of Kamina's orgasm subsided.

Kamina was left breathless and spent clutching the bed-sheets. Hila fell to the bed – herself spent but pleased that she could bring Kamina to such a powerful internal climax.

When the power of speech finally returned, Kamina shared her amazement at how long and intense her orgasm was. "I thought my head was going to blow off! I didn't know it could feel like that…that deep inside…that incredible!"

Hila met Kamina's gaze and smiled knowingly. "There is plenty more where that came from. But we'll save that for tonight."

"Okay," mumbled Kamina. She turned over and was soon snoring gently.

Hila pulled the sleeping woman close and drifted off to sleep herself.

She awoke to find Kamina standing by the bed.

"Join me for a shower?" asked the young woman.

Hila was tempted. "No. You have yours, I need another five minutes. Besides I can't trust myself to keep my hands off you."

"And that's a bad thing," Kamina teased.

"It is if we want to eat sometime today," Hila replied.

"Eating is overrated," Kamina purred. "Unless you want to eat..." she moved her hand slowly down her abdomen.

Hila threw a pillow at Kamina. "Get out of here," she laughed.

Kamina let out a squeal and scampered to the shower.

After they were both showered and dressed – Hila in her ubiquitous tank top and leather trousers and Kamina in a purple shirt and a white, mid-thigh length skirt – they ventured out of the bunkroom in search of breakfast. When they entered the lounge, Boran was sitting at the table with an empty plate in front of him and a cup of strong tea.

"I was wondering when you two were getting up." He took a sip from his steaming cup.

"Good morning, Boran," Kamina said cheerfully. "Did you save us any leftovers from last night? I'm starving!"

"Yes, it's in the galley. Help yourself."

Kamina headed off towards the galley with a bounce in her step, leaving Hila to face the inevitable ribbing from Boran.

Boran peered over the cup's lip at Hila. "Sleep well, did you?" He asked casually.

Not usually one to be coy about her sexual encounters, Hila felt like a girl caught kissing behind the school. "Yes, well… well, not… Kami and I talked last night and one thing led to another."

Boran seemed to enjoy watching his friend squirm and sputter with a great deal of satisfaction; however, his beeping communications device put an end to that. He pulled the rod shaped device from his pocket and pulled out the flexible screen. "It's Ilistan. I had better take this," he said and headed for the cockpit to take the call.

Kamina was coming back from the galley holding a container of last night's food. "Did you want some of this?"

Hila was too distracted by Ilistan's call to eat at that moment. "No thanks."

"I don't know about you, but I worked up a real appetite," said Kamina.

Hila smiled at the memory of this morning; however, she was very interested to know if Ilistan had news of Karthen. She didn't have to wait too long. Boran came back to the lounge, and Hila could immediately tell the news was not good. Boran's mood had become very sombre and his face was very pale.


"Boran, you don't look very well," Kamina observed. "Here, sit down."

Kamina got up and moved to the other side of the table. Boran slumped down in the chair and unfastened his high-collared jacket.

"What did Ilistan say?" Hila asked.

"He finally got some information about what has been happening on Otopa and Dameb, and why there was so little information." Boran reached for his cup and drank what was left.

Hila was barely able to contain her impatience to know what had put Boran in such a state. "So what is it? Tell me," she said.

Boran put down the empty cup and explained. "Ilistan said that Karthen was there with a striker group to claim Otopa for The Hegemony. He said there was an assassination attempt on Karthen's life."

"Was she killed?" Hila asked.

"No. Someone was shot, but Ilistan didn't think it was Aloyd Karthen herself. Her ships were reported holding position in orbit around Otopa for several days, and then came here to Dameb. He says that shortly after her arrival on Dameb there was another assassination attempt." Boran paused with a far off look – his complexion still pallid.

"On Karthen again?" Hila prompted Boran to finish the story.

"Huh, uh no. All Ilistan knew was a senior military officer, perhaps another aloyd, was shot and killed, which explains the lockdown at the base. Karthen's command ship has departed for Timar."

"Did he say anything else?" Hila asked.

Boran shook his head. "There's nothing more he could say. With an attempt on her life and some other aloyd dead, there's no way we can get close to Karthen. Security around her will go off the scale. It means there is very little hope of rescuing Tehvay now."

"Not unless they caught the killer," said Hila. "I can't see someone killing an aloyd on a military base and just walking out of there."

"Yeah," Kamina agreed. "There's still hope."

"We'll go to the Timar system and see what we can find out," said Hila heading for the cockpit.


There was a large military base on Timar, or to be more accurate, the entire planet of Timar was a large military base. It was home to ship building and repair facilities, training facilities, barracks, and a divisional command headquarters among other support and ancillary services.

The grounds around the divisional headquarters were buzzing with ground vehicles, air vehicles and pedestrians. Everyone wore a uniform that identified them through its colour: the soldiers wore light grey, military maintenance wore light green, civilian maintenance wore dark green, medics wore white, civilian support staff wore yellow and the slaves wore light blue.

Of all the colours there was only one dark grey uniform and that was Kikola. Despite being the highest-ranking individual in sight, she felt smaller and more vulnerable than at any time in her life; her position was tenuous. The two soldiers behind her were not her escort; they were her guards. Commodore Heln was to her right, Anari, her advocate was to her left. Behind the guards, out of her sight were Tehvay and Captain Wurth.

The group walked towards the entrance of the tallest building in the centre of the headquarters complex. The guards at the entrance stood to attention and saluted. Commodore Heln stepped forward of the group and returned the salutes. He presented his credentials and the large doors swung open. The air-conditioned interior was cool compared to the warm sunny exterior, and the steady drone of traffic and people was cut off completely. Only their soft footsteps on the carpeted floor made any noise.

They entered a lift and a few moments later they were disgorged into a bustling office. Standing there was another dark grey uniform. Kikola recognised her as Aloyd, Second-Class Sialan Ajafo ap Tokask who had graduated from the Academy three years before Kikola.

The soldiers with Karthen saluted Aloyd Tokask. "Follow me," she said.

Aloyd Tokask turned on her heel and led the group past the expanse of cubicles and down a corridor until they reached an unoccupied office.

Two guards took up positions on either side of the open door. Kikola entered the room and Tokask followed her, closing the door behind her.

"It's good to see you, Kikola, though I wish the circumstances were different."

"As do I, Sialan."

"The Council will contact me when they are ready to announce their decision, and you will be brought through to the meeting room. I wish I could give you some indication as to how this will go."

"Don't concern yourself. I stand by my actions. Whatever The Council decides, it is our duty to obey."

"Yes," Aloyd Tokask repeated, "our duty." She then leaned in closer and whispered, "The Tokask Family is with you when The Council votes."

"My thanks, Sialan," Kikola replied.

The Aloyd Second-Class straightened up and stepped back. "Do you have any questions?"

"Yes. Can I be assured of privacy in this room while I wait?"

"Of course. There is no surveillance equipment in here, you can rest assured," Tokask replied. "Do you wish to consult with your advocate while you wait?"


"Then I will wish you luck and see you shortly." Aloyd Tokask saluted and started to leave.

"Sialan—" Kikola called after her.


"Could you send in my slave, please?"

"If that is what you wish."

"It is."

Shortly after Aloyd Tokask left, Tehvay entered. Once she heard the solid click as the door shut behind her, Tehvay's impassive features gave way to the concern and apprehension she must have felt.

"Are we being monitored?" she whispered.

Kikola replied in a normal speaking voice. "No, we may speak freely."

"Good. Do you know what is going to happen?" Tehvay asked.

"Not really. All I know is that I am to wait here until summoned."

"How long will that take?" Tehvay asked.

"I have no way of knowing. Sialan said that The Council is convening now. A judgement will be made sometime today. I am to wait here until summoned to the meeting room."

"Judgement. I don't like the sound of that. Could… I mean… Is it possible…"

"That I could receive a death penalty?"


"I do not know. Anything is possible."

"I don't wish to sound self-centred or anything, but what will happen to me?"

Before she responded, Kikola leaned on the office desk and drew Tehvay towards her, but not too close in case someone happened in on them. "They will give me time to put my affairs in order. Unfortunately, I cannot give you your freedom. However, as my property I can bequeath you to someone. Do you have a preference? What about Trin'hale on Gatlor?"

"She was nice, but can it be anybody and not just a member of your family?"

Kikola frowned. "I don't know. I haven't been in this situation before."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to burden you."

"You are no burden," Kikola assured her. "Do you have someone in mind?"

"Yes. Boran Zerbilla," Tehvay replied. "He runs a business on Shibato."

"Is he the one you stayed with when you were free?"

Tehvay nodded.

"Then if it comes to the worst, I will bequeath you to him."

"Thank you. Though I really do hope it doesn't come to that."

"Do you really mean that?" Kikola asked.

"Of course I do."

"Then I, too, hope for a favourable outcome."


Tehvay looked down at her left hand, its fingers were entwined with the fingers of Kikola's right hand. The aloyd leaned on the edge of the table facing the door with Tehvay stood in front of her. That way anyone entering would not see them holding hands. Tehvay wanted to do more than hold hands, but felt helpless. It should have gone against every fibre of her being to hope that her owner would walk away from whatever fate awaited her. But that was all she could think of; that by the end of the day they would be back on the Conqueror sharing a bed and sleeping in each other's arms.

Suddenly, the door opened, causing Tehvay to jump. She mumbled a quick apology and assumed a position against the wall. Kikola approached Aloyd Tokask.

"Is it time?"

"Yes. They are waiting on the link. You are to bring your slave."

It was a short walk to the meeting room, but for Tehvay it felt like the longest walk of her life. How long must it seem for Kikola?

The view screen showed a woman, maybe a couple of years older than herself and a man who appeared to be in his seventies. Aloyd Tokask announced the names of those present, even Tehvay, though only by her slave ident. Tehvay discovered the names of the people on screen: Ambra ap Lentol and Guljein ap Maldan, who was the current chair of The Council.

Tehvay was directed to stand at the back of the room flanked on her left by Commodore Heln and on her right by Captain Wurth. Kikola stood in the centre of the meeting room, in front of the large view screen. Anari stood just behind and to the left.

"Aloyd Kikola Mariantha Jacand ap Karthen," Maldan began. "Your actions have caused a division of opinion among The Council. To ensure impartiality, your family representative and that of the Taliss family stepped down from any discussion and verdict. Despite the opposing views, a decision has been reached, and The Council now speaks as one.

"Your word as a member of the Elit is taken in the matter. It is accepted that Supreme-Aloyd Durell Darith Polthen ap Taliss did employ someone to assassinate you on Otopa."

Tehvay smiled inwardly. It felt as though a weight was lifting off her shoulders, but her relief was premature.

Chairman Maldan continued. "However, your action of summary execution, while acceptable for civilians, has been deemed inappropriate for a member of the Elit. His actions should have been reported to The Council for us to adjudicate. This breach in protocol cannot go unpunished."

Tehvay heard an intake of breath from Anari, signalling the advocate was about to speak.

"Si—" was all the advocate managed.

"I accept whatever punishment The Council has deemed fit," Kikola said loud enough to drown out Anari.

"I would expect nothing less, Aloyd Karthen," said Maldan. He glanced at something in front of him and read aloud in a solemn and deliberate tone. "Kikola Mariantha Jacand ap Karthen, it is the decision of The Council that you be demoted to Aloyd, Third-Class. You will lose command of the Sword and Crusade and also your private cruiser, the Conqueror ."

Kikola nodded her acceptance.

Ambra ap Lentol spoke up. "Aloyd Karthen I am hereby reassigning you to Chilursa Station. Your posting will be reassessed in Year 1605."

"Thank you, Councillor Lentol."

"One more thing," said Councillor Malden. "A matter of compensation."

"Compensation?" Kikola asked warily.

"Yes. One of Aloyd Taliss' slaves was apparently so traumatised by the shooting that it had to be put down. You are to hand your slave, BK2561891, over to the Taliss family by way of compensation."

A knotted pit formed in Tehvay's stomach as she heard those words.

"My slave?"

"Yes, Aloyd Karthen, your slave."

"If it is just a matter of compensation, I could buy them a new slave," she replied.

"You said you would abide by the decision of The Council," Malden countered. "It is The Council's decision that you surrender your slave."

"Councillor Malden, with all due respec—"

"Aloyd Karthen, there is no point discussing this further. The Council has made its decision."

"I am not questioning the decision, I am merely trying to understand the reasoning. What about my compensation? My slave was injured in the attempt on my life."

"You executed Supreme-Aloyd Taliss. He paid for the attempt on your life and the injury to your slave. That laid that particular matter to rest. However, in executing Supreme-Aloyd Taliss you caused irreparable damage to his slave. The Taliss Family need to be compensated for the loss of that slave. It's only a slave. It cannot warrant you going against the will of The Council, can it?"

The knot in Tehvay's stomach grew worse as the discussion progressed, but at Malden's last question it started to subside. Tehvay knew Kikola would stand up for her.

"No, Councillor," said Kikola. "As you say, it is only a slave."

"Aloyd Tokask, issue Aloyd Karthen with new rank bars and credentials, and lock her slave in a cell. A representative of the Taliss family will come to take it."

It took Tehvay several moments to grasp what had transpired. Fury started to build at being betrayed. Before she could release it, Kikola approached her.

"You are a good slave," said Kikola. "Be a good slave for the Taliss family, and they will be good owners ."

There was a look in Kikola's eyes that Tehvay had never seen before. It was a look of hopeless pleading – as if she were trying to make Tehvay understand something.

"Hopefully," continued Kikola. "They will be like your other good owners ."

Tehvay heard an unusual inflection in Kikola's reference to good owners . She thought she understood what Kikola was trying to convey to her. Her other good owners did not last long. Kikola was saying that Tehvay should be obedient, keep her head down, and soon Kikola would come for her.

There was a lingering disappointment that Kikola did nothing at that moment, but Tehvay put her trust in the woman she had grown to love. She bowed her head. "Yes, Aloyd Karthen."

When Tehvay raised her eyes, Kikola was walking out of the room without so much as a glance back. Tehvay wanted to cry, but a good slave would not do that, so she forced the tears back until she was locked away in a cell. Then the tears flowed like a waterfall, and she was swept away into an abyss of longing, anger, and betrayal.



Tehvay had no idea what planet she was on. She only knew that it was cold.

She stepped out of the vehicle onto a gravel driveway, frost covered lawns and bushes surrounded the grand house that the Taliss Family called home. A heavy, cold mist hung in the morning air. And even though the two agents of the Taliss Family who had transported her from Timar were flanking her, Tehvay felt quite alone as she waited whatever came next.

A lanky man in his early fifties, impeccably dressed in a luxurious winter coat, walked out of the house towards her. His dark hair was greying at the temples and his close-cropped beard showed signs of grey too. He was accompanied by a male slave walking a step behind. The slave wore a short thin jacket over his uniform that supplied him with some protection from the elements.

She shivered as she waited, her breath shrouding her face, wishing that she had the clothes that Kikola had given her to keep her warm. But those were taken from her on Timar, and she was wearing the thin, light blue, standard issue slave uniform.

The man stopped and regarded her. She lowered her head to show due respect.

"My name is Darith ap Taliss. My father is…was Supreme-Aloyd Durell ap Taliss. I am now head of this family and this house. You'll address all male members of the Taliss Family as 'Sir' and all the female members as 'Ma'am'. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir," replied Tehvay.

In the cold it felt to Tehvay an awfully long time before he spoke again. "Remove your shirt."

Tehvay was about to protest, but remembered Kikola's words and her training. She obeyed the command. She hoped that the steam coming off her bare skin masked the burning shame she was feeling.

"Turn around," he commanded curtly.

Tehvay turned to face away from Taliss.

He approached and examined her more closely. "I thought you were shot in the back. There's no scar."

"No, Sir," said Tehvay. "The doctor removed the scar."


"I don't know, Sir. I didn't ask."

Taliss harrumphed. "Put your shirt back on and turn around."

Tehvay hurriedly donned her shirt again. "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."

"This is Kentop," Taliss gestured to the slave. "It's in charge of allocating the slaves their tasks. It'll see to you now."

"Yes, Sir," said Tehvay automatically.

The others departed, leaving Tehvay alone with Kentop. He was about the same height as Tehvay, with short-cropped black hair, dark skin, and brown eyes. The same deep brown as Kikola's eyes , thought Tehvay. I wonder where she is now, and is she missing me as much as I am missing her. Damn it! She admonished herself. I broke the cardinal rule of slaves: don't become emotionally attached to an owner.

"This way," he said and led Tehvay around to the back of the house.

They passed two slaves working on a garden plot. It surprised Tehvay to see that they were wearing sturdy boots, gloves, and the same thin light-blue jacket that Kentop wore.

Well, at least slaves seem well-treated here , Tehvay silently observed. That's something, at least.

Kentop led her into a small courtyard attached to the back of the main building. "When the weather is nicer, and if you've no tasks to attend to, you are permitted to spend time in this courtyard."

They descended a flight of steps from the courtyard to a basement door and entered an antechamber. The room contained several sets of outdoor clothes for the slaves. Another door led into a corridor lined with doors. Kentop stopped outside of one door.

"This will be your cell. Number three." He pointed to the numeral on the door. "Can you read that?"


"Good." He opened the door. Double bunks lined either side of the cell. "The bottom two bunks are occupied. You may have either of the top bunks."

He directed Tehvay to a door on the opposite side of the corridor. "Washing and toilet facilities on either end of the hall. The cells are not locked so you may use them at any time."

The washroom was not much bigger than the cell. It contained two toilets, a washbasin, and two showerheads. There were no dividers for privacy.

The next room Tehvay was shown was a small dining area.

"Food dispenser, drinking water," Kentop intoned. Straight ahead at the end of the corridor was a flight of stairs, another corridor led to the right. "The stairs go up to the main house. You'll not be permitted up there without express permission from a Sir or Ma'am." He walked off down the adjoining corridor. "Do you have any experience with cooking?"

"No," replied Tehvay.

"Humph," Kentop muttered. "I've assigned you to the laundry, anyway. But if you ever work in the kitchen," he pointed at the first door, "do not consider stealing any food."

"I won't."

"You should be made aware that for any offence that our owners think deserves punishment, all slaves are punished for it."

"Does it happen often?"

"Occasionally. Usually the punishment is a temporary rationing of food or water. Or a spell on the troidion."

"The troidion?" Tehvay didn't like the sound of that.

"It's a treadmill with an angled platform, you have to walk at a certain pace for a length of time. If you fail to maintain the pace, then you start again. It's like a continuous walk uphill."

"I guess it's a good incentive for all slaves to behave. What about beatings?" asked Tehvay.

Kentop gave her a quizzical look. "The Taliss do not beat their slaves. Did Aloyd Karthen beat you?"

"No. Other owners have though," she replied.

"I hope your behaviour has improved."

Tehvay didn't like the tone of his voice. It wasn't my behaviour that needed improving , she wanted to say, but she held her tongue. Head down, she reminded herself. "Yes," she said.

Kentop moved further down the corridor. "The laundry. Your shift will be from 08:00 to 21:30. By the way, we keep to the standard twenty-five hour Kalenth day in the house. Though I guess you're used to that from the military. The Alopan day, however, is only twenty-two hours seventeen minutes, so it will not always be daylight when the clock says it should be. It is 17:05 now, but morning local time."

"Alopan? Is that the name of this planet?"

"Yes. Didn't you know?"

Tehvay shook her head.

"Humph," Kentop repeated disapprovingly. "Your duties in the laundry will be to load and unload the machines and prepare the laundry for delivery to the upper floors. It'll be delivered down to you from that chute," he pointed to the corner of the steamy laundry. "It'll go back up on the lift – over there. The others," he nodded at the two slaves currently working away, "will show you the finer details of the job. Any questions?"

Yes , thought Tehvay. Where's Kikola? "No."

Being assigned a job that had her working downstairs, away from the owners, was a great relief to Tehvay. Remembering Kikola's last instructions to 'be good', the less contact she had with the Taliss Family members the better, in her book.

"Good," Kentop acknowledged, "then I will leave you to your task."

By the end of the day, Tehvay was exhausted. She hadn't done such physical work for a long time. Though she was fairly fit, Tehvay's muscles were aching when the shift finished. She hoped that she wouldn't have time to get used to a full thirteen and a half hour shift – that Kikola would find a way to rescue her.

Tehvay had something to eat and a shower before going to her cell. When she entered the small room, there were two other slaves, both male, lying in the lower bunks. They looked up as she entered.

They were the two she had seen working outside in the garden when she had arrived. They both had light brown hair and green eyes. They could have been related, but Tehvay didn't bother asking. Slaves tended not to have conversations among themselves. They had very few topics of which they felt the need to talk about. Rarely were slaves, outside of the slave hostels, sexually intimate with each other, so Tehvay had no concerns about stripping off and climbing into one of the top bunks. As expected they paid her no attention.

As she settled down her thoughts turned to Kikola. She quickly turned them away. A slave that cried itself to sleep would be seen as defective and put down.


A week had gone by and Tehvay was trying to make the most of a bad situation; however, her job in the laundry was mind-numbingly tedious. It gave her little distraction from brooding about the circumstances that took her away from Kikola and the promise of a life being loved and respected, if not completely free. Still she lived in hope that one more load, one more hour – one more day brought her one step closer to being reunited.

There were only a couple of hours of her shift left when there was a lull in the work. Tehvay took the opportunity for a toilet break. As she sat there, Kentop came in. He made no apology for walking in on her, and Tehvay didn't expect one. Slaves had no expectation of privacy.

"One of the Ma'ams, Jenissa, needs a slave to accompany her to afternoon tea," he said. "Her personal slave is ill. You can do it."


"No. Now. Hurry up."

"It's late for afternoon tea."

"Not on local time. Have a shower and change your clothes first. I will take you to her."

Tehvay hurriedly showered and changed, and then met Kentop at the bottom of the stairs. He headed up without a word. Tehvay followed. The Taliss house appeared more opulent than the Karthen estate. Kikola's house was quite uncluttered and modern compared to this one. Tables laden with vases and figurines lined the lushly carpeted corridors. Every two metres was a portrait of a long dead family member or landscape of the house and gardens. Crystal chandeliers hung from the high ceilings bathing everything in a golden light.

Standing in the large hallway at the foot of a large staircase was a young woman of about sixteen. She was tall, which seemed to be a family trait, and her hair was a mass of long golden curls that tumbled perfectly over her shoulders. Her face dropped on seeing Tehvay.

"Is that the new one?" she asked Kentop.

"Yes, Ma'am. It's the only one available," he replied.

"Oh well, never mind. It's certainly not the best one with whom to be seen out in public, but it is better than no slave at all. Your name is Tevit, is that right?" The girl's smile returned.

"Tehvay, Ma'am," She replied as calmly as she could.

"Tehvay, right. Ugly name." She shuddered. "Perhaps I should call you Tevit." She laughed as if it were the funniest thing ever. "Come along, 'Tevit'. I have an appointment in town, and I do not want to be late."

Tehvay had to hurry to keep up with the long strides of Jenissa, but thankfully the distance to the waiting vehicle was not too great. Jenissa insisted that Tehvay ride with her in the main passenger compartment and not the slave compartment.

"They are awfully cramped and who knows what you get up to in there!" she gleefully informed Tehvay.

The journey from the Taliss estate to the centre of Alopan's capital city took about twenty minutes. The vehicle came to a stop outside a lavish looking hotel. Jenissa issued a "Come along" to Tehvay and walked briskly inside. There were two other young women about Jenissa's age waiting in the lobby. They rushed forward and took it in turns to embrace the Taliss woman in greeting. Eventually one of them looked at Tehvay.

"Oh, no Menari?" she queried.

"No, Bree. It decided to be ill today."

"How inconsiderate," declared Bree.

"Very," agreed Jenissa.

"So what is this one called?" asked the other, whose name was Purdit.

"Tevit!" Jenissa laughed. "No. I joke. It is called Tehvay."

"Oh. I think I prefer Tevit," pouted Purdit.

This is going to be a long, painful afternoon, thought Tehvay.

And it was. Tehvay stood there for nearly three hours as the three young women chattered inanely, giggled, and picked at tiny portions of expensive food. Boredom and tiredness made it a struggle for Tehvay to stay awake. More than once she found her eyes closing and felt herself falling. The sound of her name brought her to alertness.

"Tehvay was shot!" Jenissa announced in an inappropriately cheerful manner.

"Is that so?" asked Purdit.

"Oh, tell us!" Bree was almost bouncing in her seat. "Tell us, slave, what was it like to be shot?"

"Go on," prompted Jenissa. "We would all like to hear what it was like."

"Painful, Ma'am," said Tehvay as evenly as she could. She prayed that they wouldn't want to look at the invisible scar.

"There must be more," said Purdit. "More than just painful."

"It was sudden, Ma'am. I was walking, and then I was on the ground. Then there was the pain."

"Were you scared?"

"I would be scared!" proclaimed Bree. "How scared were you?"

"It happened too quickly for me to be scared. After the pain, I passed out."

"Oh." Bree looked deflated.

"Did you scream from the pain?" asked Jenissa.

"No, Ma'am. As I said, it happened so quickly."

Tehvay didn't want to relive every excruciating detail about being shot. It wasn't so much the physical pain as it was a reminder of all she had gained and lost in the aftermath of that day. Thankfully for Tehvay the three young women moved on to another topic of conversation.

When Jenissa and her friends finished their tea, they left the restaurant. It was dark outside and a brilliant clear, star-filled sky sprawled above them. Tehvay looked up. Which one of those lights is you, Kikola? she thought. Please hurry.

The vehicle set off and the gentle rocking lulled Tehvay to sleep.

"Are you asleep?"

Jenissa's voice startled Tehvay.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. I worked a long shift in the laundry before accompanying you."

"Oh. I didn't know. You must be awfully tired, it is nearly 01:00."

Tehvay thought she heard genuine concern in Jenissa's voice.

"I am, Ma'am. Sorry, Ma'am."

"Don't apologise. I shall have words with Kentop. It should have selected another. In fact, I shall inform Kentop that you be excused from your duties tomorrow, so you may rest."

"That's very kind of you, Ma'am."

"Yes it is," said Jenissa. "I am pleased you recognise tha– Ashee !" Her words were cut off by a stifled, lady-like sneeze. She sneezed a couple more times before she managed to wrestle a handkerchief from her bag. She blew her nose with as much grace as it is possible to do so. "I believe Menari must have infected me. It was sneezing and looking decidedly wretched earlier on. The physician confined it to bed."

She dabbed her nose a few times, tucked the handkerchief in her sleeve, and continued chattering away as though Tehvay was one of her adolescent girlfriends and not a slave. "What did you think of Bree and Purdit?"

"It's not my place to say, Ma'am."

"You're well trained." Jenissa fell silent for a few moments before continuing the conversation. "My parents wish I wouldn't see Bree and Purdit. They're not Elit, only Fethusal, but I like them. Oh, I know they are not the best for stimulating conversation, but they are amiable and I enjoy their company. They also like me for who I am and not my position. Mother and father insist that if I am to see them, then I should have a slave with me to demonstrate my social standing."

"Yes, Ma'am," Tehvay replied, not knowing what else to say.

"You have not met Menari, my personal slave, have you?"

"I don't think so, Ma'am."

"No. It sleeps in a cell adjoining my rooms, so that it is near if I need it."

Tehvay noticed the young Elit's increasing discomfort with the word 'it' when speaking about her personal slave, Menari.

"It is very attentive,"Jenissa continued, "and rather more pleasant to look at than you." The young woman hastened to add, "No insult intended."

What do I say to that? Tehvay wondered. She had never been insulted in such a bizarre manner. A 'Yes, Ma'am' or a 'No, Ma'am' seemed an utterly pointless reply so she remained silent.

After a succession of demure sneezes, Jenissa continued to fill the time with ruminations about her personal slave. "When I am seen out with Menari, people look and that makes me proud. Proud that Menari is mine. The respect and… envy that such a fine slave elicits from others makes me feel… uh, I mean, it underlines my standing."

The conversation about Menari seemed to have run its course, because for a couple of minutes Jenissa said nothing. Instead, she pensively stared out her frosted window at the dark landscape passing by.

"I shall be leaving this planet, shortly" said Jenissa. "I shall be going to live with my Aunt Ultessi. She is governor of Yun'thul. I shall learn from her, and one day I will have governorship of a planet myself. Menari will come with me of course." She looked over at Tehvay. "A governor will need more than one slave. Perhaps I might take you."

Tehvay's stomach clenched at the thought of being taken away from the Taliss estate. How will Kikola know where to find me? She thought. Still, Tehvay pulled a stock reply from her brain. "Yes, Ma'am."

Jenissa sneezed again. "Curse Menari for this," she muttered. "I fear I shall be confined to bed tomorrow just like her."

It did not escape Tehvay's notice that Jenissa had used the word 'her' and not 'it'; however, she pretended not to hear it. The rest of the trip back to the Taliss home was mercifully spent in silence.

On arrival at the Taliss home, the vehicle pulled up to the main doors and a slave hurried over to open the passenger door. Jenissa sniffled as she climbed out. Tehvay followed her young mistress up the walkway to the grand front entrance of the house. Jenissa's strides were not as long as when she left. Tehvay noticed she looked flushed and beads of perspiration stood out on her forehead. Jenissa recognised that she was not well and directed the slave that opened the door to have the physician sent to her room.

"I will need your assistance, Tehvay," said Jenissa and set off up the stairs.

Tehvay felt exhausted herself, but had little choice. So much for being excused from my duties tomorrow , thought Tehvay. "Yes, Ma'am."

They entered an excessively decorated bedroom: patterned wallpaper, lace window hangings, pictures, dolls, vases, and flowers; it overwhelmed her senses. To Tehvay, it stood in stark contrast to the minimalist furnishings in Kikola's bedroom at the Karthen estate. As soon as they were inside, Jenissa removed her coat and thrust it at Tehvay, who had to grab it quickly before it fell to the floor.

A side door opened and a slave appeared. Tehvay guessed it must be Menari. She understood why Jenissa had said she was more pleasant to look at than Tehvay. She was taller than Tehvay, closer in height to Jenissa and only a couple of years older than her mistress. Now Tehvay could see for herself that Jenissa had not exaggerated her personal slave's physical beauty. Despite being ill, Menari was indeed stunning: finely chiselled nose, long slender neck, high cheek bones, skin the colour of chocolate, and hair a mass of black curls to rival Jenissa's blonde ones.

"Menari! What are you doing out of bed?" Jenissa scolded.

Tehvay detected a tone in the scold that was more worry than anger.

"I heard you come in. I thought you might need help…Ma'am."

"I will be all right. Tehvay will attend me. You must return to your bed and get some re–es– Ashee !" Jenissa punctuated the command with a sneeze.

"Oh no, don't tell me you caught it too?"

"It appears so. I will be fine. The physician is coming. Now return to your cell."

Tehvay watched this exchange with more than a passing interest, though she didn't let on. They hide it well , she thought, but it was apparent that there was more between the two young women than mistress and slave.

"Yes, Ma'am," Menari said after a while. She bowed her head and shuffled back to her room.

"When you have seen to me, you may sleep in Menari's cell," Jenissa told Tehvay. "There are blankets and pillows in the cupboard in there. I am afraid you'll have to use the floor, but I suspect you have slept in worse places."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"I know you're tired, but you may have to get up to attend me during the night. I would also like you to attend Menari. The physician gave her some tablets to take and she—" Jenissa had caught her slip and a panicked look came over her face. She tried to cover the pause with a sneeze. "Oh, dear me. I am quite out of sorts. My head is buzzing like a wasps' nest. I was saying something, probably nothing important."

"Let me help you to bed, Ma'am."

"Yes. The physician should be here soon."

Jenissa changed into a long nightdress and climbed into bed. "Water!" she pointed to a decanter and glass on a nearby table.

Tehvay poured a glass of water and handed it to Jenissa, who took a small sip.

There was a knock on the door and Tehvay answered it. The physician was a short woman with neatly trimmed grey hair, though she didn't seem that old, and her face was unlined by age. She took one look at Jenissa and reached her diagnosis.

"Rantili Fever."

"You gave everyone inoculations a few days ago. First Menari and now I have come down with it. How is that possible?"

"The virus incubates for some time before symptoms appear. The inoculations prevent infection, but cannot kill the virus if you are already infected. I am sorry."

Jenissa looked at Tehvay. "You'll probably come down with it now. You weren't here when we were given the jab."

"I was given an injection for it a couple months ago, Ma'am," Tehvay replied.

"It should be fine to look after you," the physician said to Jenissa without so much as a glance at Tehvay.

She opened her bag, pulled out a bottle of tablets, and held it up. "Two of these three times a day: when you get up, middle of the day and bed time. Make sure she takes them." She handed the bottle to Tehvay, again without looking at her. "And drink plenty of fluids. Three days and it should all be over."

"Three days of feeling miserable, headaches and fever. I cannot wait," Jenissa said.

Neither can I, thought Tehvay.

Tevhay nursed both Jenissa and Menari around the clock while the Rantili Fever ran its course.

By the third day, Menari insisted she was well enough to cope looking after Jenissa. Tehvay could see relief on both of their faces as she finally left to return downstairs. She was more than convinced from subtle signs that mistress and slave were in love. It made her smile and think of Kikola, but her smile was replaced by longing and doubt.

It was so long since they were parted. Tehvay tried counting the days: Two or three days on Timar. Seven or eight days to travel from Timar to Alopan. Nine, ten, eleven days on Alopan? The days had blurred and she could not recall. Surely Kikola would have come for me by now, she thought. Did I misunderstand? Has Kikola forgotten me and abandoned me to my fate?

She fought down the panic that threatened to surface. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself.

No! I must be patient. I must believe.


Jenissa sat propped up in bed drinking a glass of fruit juice while Menari sat on the bed waiting to take the glass away when her mistress was finished. Jenissa hurried to drink the last of the juice, before handing the empty glass back. In doing so, Menari's hand brushed against her skin. To Jenissa, Menari's touch felt like a brisk morning walk in the bright sunshine. She smiled as she recalled the day she first laid eyes on Menari.

Menari had been fifteen at the time and the Taliss Family were her first owners. Before then, Menari had spent her life at a slave hostel where she had been selected for the slave-breeding programme. From the age of twelve, she was bred several times a year, but she never got pregnant. When tests revealed that Menari was infertile, she was put up for sale and bought by the Taliss family to be a personal slave for Jenissa. It was a tradition in the family that at twelve a Taliss was given a personal slave – one that would serve them and go with them when they left home or started their own family.

It was love at first sight, Jenissa remembered, though she didn't have the words or experience to describe it as such then.

One time, when all the slaves were to be punished on the troidion, it took Menari ten hours to complete the punishment at the given pace. When she returned to her cell she could barely stand. Jenissa took Menari to her own bed and held her as they both wept.

Jenissa was fifteen by the time she fully understood her feelings for Menari and acted upon them. Also by that time she knew how wrong those feelings were among Elit society. It had increasingly become a struggle to maintain the charade in front of others. But the last few days, under the effects of Rantili Fever, she was worried that she had let it slip. She knew for a fact that on at least one occasion in front of Tehvay she had referred to Menari as a person. However, the new slave either did not hear her, or kept the oversight to itself.

"What do you think of Tehvay?" Jenissa asked Menari.

"Do you like her more than me?" Menari sounded unnerved by the prospect.

"No!" Jenissa reached out and laid a comforting hand on the slave's arm. "How could I? She's old and ugly." While Jenissa found it frustrating to have to refer to Menari as 'it' to others, she also found it odd to refer to other slaves as 'he' or 'she' to Menari. She did it because every time she referred to a slave as 'it', Jenissa could see it hurt Menari.

"She attended you well," Menari admitted.

"She did, but not anywhere near as well as you do." Jenissa moved her hand up to stroke Menari's cheek. "And did she attend you well?"


"I think you deserve that more often. I have decided that when it's time for me to leave for my aunt's house, she'll come with us. She can take over the more menial tasks that you do." Jenissa smiled shyly. "I will still require you to attend me."

Menari slowly leaned forward, pausing within centimetres of Jenissa's lips. "I will insist on that."


Another ten days had passed. Ten days of mindless drudgery in the laundry. Ten days of sleeping and working. Ten days of hope slipping away. To Tehvay it might as well have been ten years.

Freedom was becoming a distant memory for her. Tehvay no longer had to play at being a slave – she was one. She did not feel anything when she bowed her head whenever she saw a member of the Taliss family. She did not feel anything when she said 'Yes, Sir' or 'Yes, Ma'am'. She did not feel anything when her muscles ached from loading and unloading the laundry machines all day long. She did not feel anything.

It was 05:30 Kalenth Standard Time – time for the slaves to start their day. Her cell mates were doing their best to catch a little more sleep. Tehvay longed for the oblivion that sleep provided, but she answered the alarm and climbed down from her bed. As she exited her cell, Kentop was waiting for her.

"Ma'am Jenissa has need of you. Report to her bedroom at 06:30."

Tehvay nodded her acceptance and went about her morning routine.

After completing it, she went upstairs. She knocked on the door to Jenissa's bedroom. After a few moments Menari opened it and stepped aside to allow Tehvay admittance. Tehvay stepped inside and took a couple of paces to her right to stand against the wall and await her orders.

Jenissa was standing by the window watching snow drift down from a grey-white sky.

"I hate snow," she declared. "I will make sure that the planet I govern has no snow. I shall forbid it!" She giggled and turned around to look at Tehvay. "Tehvay, I have spoken to my uncle Darith and he has agreed that I may have you. We will leave for Yun'thul within the hour."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"I wish to clarify your position. Menari will continue to be my personal slave. You'll be responsible for other duties. If Menari gives you an order, you're to assume it comes directly from me and you'll obey it. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Now, return to your cell, collect your spare uniform, and wait in the main hall."

"Yes, Ma'am."

Tehvay left her mistress' room and made her way down the back staircase that led to the slaves' quarters. With each step, she sank deeper into despair. If I leave the Taliss estate how will Kikola ever find me?

Tehvay packed her spare uniform in a daze and returned upstairs to the main hall.

The whole household turned up in the main hall to say goodbye to Jenissa – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings. Menari and Tehvay waited by the front door with Jenissa's luggage, ignored by everyone for the duration of the send-offs.

"Come along," Jenissa said brightly as she swept by her two slaves. Menari and Tehvay picked up Jenissa's bags, fell into step behind her, and followed her to the vehicle waiting to take Jenissa to Alopan's main spaceport.

It had been snowing for three days straight and although it had been ploughed, the pavement was icing over. Kentop was standing by the vehicle. He opened the door and helped Jenissa into the vehicle so she didn't slip and fall.

"Goodbye, Kentop," Jenissa said.

"Good luck, Ma'am," he replied.

Menari and Tehvay climbed into the vehicle and took their seats: Menari sat next to her mistress on the far side, and Tehvay sat in a fold down seat opposite Menari. Once the occupants were settled, Kentop closed the door and signalled the driver to drive on.

When they passed through the Taliss estate's main gate, Jenissa turned to have one last look at her family home. "I shall miss it," she said wistfully, wiping a tear off her cheek. The young woman turned back around and put on a brave face, "But I will not miss this weather. The governor's palace on Yun'thul has a much more agreeable clime."

"I remember the winter we spent there two years ago," said Menari. "Ma'am," she quickly added.

Tehvay regarded the two young women with something akin to empathy. She knew what they were going through, and how hard it was to hide their feelings. It reminded Tehvay of how much she was missing Kikola.

As the vehicle slowly made its way along the slick white roads, Jenissa and Menari were chatting away about the new adventure Jenissa was embarking upon. Tehvay just stared out the window. This was no great new adventure for her. A deep sadness filled her as the Taliss estate disappeared from view. How is Kikola going to find me now? She lamented inwardly.

Suddenly the driver's voice burst over the intercom. "I'm afraid there's blockage on the road we need to take to the spaceport. I'll have to take a diversion."

"Very well," said Jenissa.

A few minutes later they joined a queue of slow moving traffic that was being diverted off the main road onto a secondary road. After several kilometres, the driver took another road and headed across country. The snow outside had stopped and the sun was starting to shine beneath the clouds as it neared the horizon.

The vehicle came to a halt on a deserted road.

"Driver!" Jenissa keyed the intercom. "Why are you stopping?"

There was no response.

"Randolin! Answer me!"

"Ma'am?" Menari was suddenly scared and held onto Jenissa's arm.

"It will be fine, Menari," the Elit said, trying to calm her slave.

Tehvay felt a sudden surge of hope that this was Kikola effecting a rescue.

Randolin, got out and came to the passenger compartment. He pulled the door open. A cold blast of air made all three women shiver.

"What are you doing? Take me to the spaceport this instant."

The driver pulled something out of his pocket, and Jenissa found herself staring down the barrel of a weapon.

"You, out," he barked at Jenissa.

"Not until you tell me what is going on," she replied.

He didn't ask her again. The well-muscled man reached in, dragged Jenissa out of the car by her hair, and threw her to the ground.

Menari made a move towards Jenissa, but the driver waved the weapon in her direction.

"Stay," he warned her.

She sat back down and looked to Tehvay for what they should do. Tehvay shrugged.

Randolin pulled a cylinder from his pocket and pressed it to Jenissa's neck. She stopped all her struggling. He picked her up and dumped her back in the vehicle, then grabbed her bag containing her personal communicator and tossed it to the side of the road.

"Now, you're going to sit there, nice and quiet," he said to the slaves. "Understand?"

Menari nodded nervously. Tears were running down her cheeks.

"Hey, blondie, do you understand?" he directed his question at Tehvay.

"Yes," Tehvay replied calmly, though both her pulse and her mind were racing.

He got back in and drove off. Menari slipped off the seat to lie on the floor and hold Jenissa, who was still unconscious.

Tehvay was trying to make sense of what was going on. If this is an attempt to rescue me , she thought, then why did he treat Jenissa so roughly ? Drugging her might've been necessary so she didn't try to stop him from freeing me , Tehvay reasoned, but why not dump the two of them on the side of the road and take off? And where's Kikola?

Darkness was falling when the vehicle pulled into a narrow lane and stopped outside an old abandoned farm building. Jenissa had regained consciousness but was still a bit groggy. The driver flung the door open and pulled on Jenissa's leg.

"Out you get!"

The bracing night air was chilly enough to have revived Jenissa somewhat. She kicked feebly against the manhandling and the driver let go. With Menari's help she got out of the compartment.

"You too," he called to Tehvay. "Out!"

Tehvay silently obeyed. Glancing around, Tehvay expected Kikola to come out of the shadows, but she didn't.

Their kidnapper drew his IPB again and ushered all three women into the abandoned building and locked them in a dark room. They huddled together for warmth in the unspoken belief that somehow it made them safer.

They were not left in the dark for too long, because a few moments later the lights and heating came on.

Tehvay took in her surroundings as she moved a few paces away from the other two. The room appeared to be some sort of kitchen. An old food dispenser was embedded in one wall, with wires hanging from a broken panel. A small hob and sink were on the opposite wall next to a barred and locked door. A grimy metal table had been upended and pushed haphazardly into a corner, and a solitary chair lay on its side near the door they had been brought in by.

"I'm scared," The nineteen year-old slave whispered, as she clung to her mistress.

"Don't worry, he wouldn't dare harm us," Jenissa said, trying to sound brave.

Suddenly the door was flung open, startling the two younger women and adding to their already heightened state of anxiety. Tehvay, on the other hand, had been conditioned to expect the unexpected from cruel and capricious owners, so she was prepared for anything that might happen. She remained, at least outwardly, composed.

It was their driver, who returned carrying a case. He picked up the chair and set it upright and sat down, opened the case and pulled out a bottle of drink. He took a swig and pulled out another bottle.

"Anyone thirsty?"

"I demand to know why you have brought us here, and what you want with me," Jenissa said.

"Aren't we all high and mighty then?" he scoffed.

"You must want something," Jenissa said in a less haughty tone.

"What do you think?" Randolin asked.

"Money, most probably."

"Well done, you've earned yourself a drink."

He tossed the bottle at her. Jenissa fumbled it but managed to stop it from hitting the floor. She handed the bottle to Menari.

"And you have earned yourself a death sentence," continued Jenissa. "I need not remind you that kidnapping an Elit is punishable by death."

Randolin laughed. "Got to catch me first."

"I am late for my flight." Jenissa changed tactics and tried to reason with him. "Someone will be searching for me right now."

The corners of his lips curled into a self-satisfied smirk. "Not yet. I informed your flight that we're stuck in traffic because of the road blockage. It'll be another couple of hours before anyone starts to miss you."

The muscular man got up from the chair and approached Jenissa with a licentious look that Tehvay had seen all too often.

He used his weapon to wave the two slaves away and circled the young Elit woman.

He leered at her and asked, "How much do you think I'll get for you?"

"My family will pay whatever you ask. Just take me home."

The man invaded her personal space, and grabbed her. "Do you think I'll get less if you're a little damaged?"

She pushed against his chest. "If you touch me you'll only be buying yourself a prolonged and more painful end."

He replied with a taunting laugh. "Heh… by the time they find you, I will be long gone."

Jenissa struggled against him, but he was too strong.

"Leave her alone!" Menari demanded.

Randolin looked over Jenissa's shoulder at the slave. There was no such severe penalty for assaulting a slave, so he pushed Jenissa away and pointed a finger at Menari.

"You! Come here."

"Stay where you are, Menari!"

Menari was a well-trained slave. Tehvay suspected that even if Menari didn't have feelings for her mistress, she would have obeyed the command.

Jenissa stood a few centimetres taller than their kidnapper, but he was armed and there was no contest as to who would win if things became physical. Yet, she had stood her ground. Is it Elit arrogance or is she truly being brave and standing up for herself and Menari against the odds – something that Kikola didn't do for me , Tehvay thought.

Randolin laughed and turned away, he paced the room slowly. Something caught his attention, and he stopped his pacing and reached into the sink. "Good job you didn't find this when I was gone," he said as he produced a knife from the basin. "You!" He pointed at Tehvay with the knife. "You come here."

"Stay where you are, Tehvay!"

So far Tehvay had detached herself from the fear of what was going on, because she was convinced she was being rescued, and she accepted that if Jenissa and Menari were injured in the process, she could live with that. However, it became increasingly clear that Randolin was only there for one thing – to kidnap Jenissa for ransom. The lives of two slaves were of no consequence. So, if she was going to die, then she was going to make her own choices.

Tehvay ignored Jenissa's command and approached their abductor. Her heart started pounding and her throat constricted in fear. Is he going to kill me first, then the others?

"Not so well trained this one," Randolin jeered at the Elit girl. He turned and spoke to Tehvay. "Your life of slavery is over. Time to take revenge on those that have ground you under their heel all those years." He turned the blade in his hand and held it out to Tehvay. "Take the knife," he said. "Cut her."

Tehvay stared at the handle being offered to her, confused and scared. Is he playing some kind of twisted game – having me do his dirty work?

He held the knife out to Tehvay. "If you want your freedom, here is your chance. You owe her nothing."

That is when Tehvay's mind detached from all rational thought. As though it were someone else, she watched her left hand reach out and grasp the handle of the knife. As she felt the handle settle into her palm, Tehvay felt the last shred of hope, that she and Kikola would ever be reunited, slipping away. Her destiny was in her own hands now. She turned to face Jenissa.

To her credit, the young woman didn't beg, didn't plead. She didn't try to order Tehvay to put the knife down. Jenissa merely stated a fact. "If you do what he says, you'll die."

"I know." Tehvay slowly raised her eyes to look at her owner. She held the knife up.

"I cannot prevent that, but I want you to know that I forgive you," said Jenissa.

Something snapped inside Tehvay. All her pent up resentment exploded to the surface, and she held nothing back. "No. No!" she shouted. "You don't get to forgive me! You do not!"

She got right up in Jenissa's face and pointed the knife at the young Elit woman. "I was free once," she continued to rant. "Did you know that? Free to come and go as I please; free to look another person in the eye; free from people like you denying me my basic human rights."

Tehvay moved forward each time she said the word 'free', backing Jenissa up into a corner of the room. "No more! I don't give you the right to forgive me! I don't give you any rights over me! I! Am! Free!"

The knife sliced and blood flowed.



Hila was uneasy. After having learned that the ships commanded by Aloyd Karthen had left the Dameb/Otopa system for the military base on Timar, it had been her idea to follow. She was almost regretting the decision.

Military sub-contracts were not always lucrative, but they provided a regular wage when needed. Like all freelance spacers, Hila had taken those sub-contracts on occasion, and having a military sub-contract on your log sheet gave some legitimacy to your business.

Like all part-time smugglers, the heavy security around Timar made her edgy. And this time there appeared to be more of it. More big military ships in orbit, more military shuttles going to and fro, and more security ships just sitting around… watching. Or maybe she was imagining it.

The entire planet of Timar was a restricted military zone, so there would be no way for Hila, Boran, and Kamina to land there directly. Resupply of the planet was done via Matunos, the larger of Timar's two moons. Matunos had a breathable atmosphere so it was also home to the civilian population that supported the base.

"What are you carrying?" the voice from the comm asked.

Kamina, who, as usual, was handling comm duties, looked at Hila and shrugged.

Hila sighed and keyed the comm panel on her side of the cockpit. "You have my registration. I've traded here before."

"Yes. But what is your current consignment? That's not specified."

"I'm picking something up."

"Can you give me a contract number?"

"It's personal."

"I'm sorry, we have a state of increased security at the moment. All incoming ships require a contract number or personal permit from a resident. No such number or permit for your ship is on record."

Hila muted the comm and cursed.

"Problem?" asked Kamina.

"What are we going to do?" asked Boran.

Hila didn't answer her friends and opened the comm. "Allow me to call my contact and I'll get a permit."

"Permits can take up to seventy-five hours."

"I can wait."

"Very well, please move to orbit two-one slash five-three. Repeat, two-one slash five-three."

"Understood." Hila shut off the comm and moved the Glyndwr to the specified orbit.

"Do you know someone who can get us a permit?" asked Boran.

"Yeah, Jaloc."

"Who?" Boran asked.

"Jaloc Caplan…" Hila paused, waiting for Boran to recall, but his face was blank. "He's the one I introduced you to about two years ago…"

"Oh, yeah, I remember Jaloc," said Boran thoughtfully. "But I don't want to wait here three days."

"He has connections. He can get us through quickly. And those connections may also provide us with information we need," said Hila. "I'll go and give him a call."

Hila left the cockpit to make the call. It took a few minutes to get hold of Jaloc and a further thirty minutes for landing clearance to be granted.

Once Hila had set a course for the spaceport, she turned to Boran. "I've arranged a meeting with Jaloc," Hila said to him. "It's all set for 20:00, local time. It's a restaurant called The Jolly Mechanic. Don't worry, it's better than it sounds. Just don't be late.."

"Me?" queried Boran.

"Yes, you. Alone."

"Aren't we going?" Kamina asked. "You know, as backup?"

"No," Hila replied. "It is better if we stay here and let Boran see Jaloc alone."

Kamina pouted a little. "But we've got to eat too."

"We'll order something in."

"But why can't we go?" Kamina persisted.

"Because Boran has the relevant attributes required to get the information we need," Hila replied. "We'd just be in the way."

Boran nodded his understanding and left the cockpit to go and get ready.

After the Glyndwr had reached its designated hangar and was powered down, Hila and Kamina joined Boran in the lounge. Both women stopped in their tracks and did a double take to see the ruggedly handsome man, with the deep set eyes and slightly greying temples, adjusting the closure of his high-neck, dark blue suit jacket.

The younger woman couldn't help ribbing him. "Who are you, and what have you done with Boran?"

"What do you mean?"

"I've never seen you clean-shaven before," Kamina replied, smiling broadly. "And I didn't even know you owned a suit!"

Kamina looked at Hila to back her up. Hila chipped in. "I've only seen him this dressed up once… and that was at a funeral!"

Boran feigned having his feathers ruffled. "Well, I'm off," he announced. He looked at Hila. "I may be a while."

"That's okay. We'll find something to amuse us," Hila replied, giving Kamina a knowing glance.

Kamina blushed a little, no doubt anticipating all the pleasurable ways she and Hila could amuse themselves while he was away.

"I'll fill you in on what I learn as soon as I get back," Boran said as he adjusted the jacket sleeves. "Don't worry, I will knock first." Boran winked and then headed for the stairs.


Since the gravity on Matunos was only seventy percent of the Kalenth standard, moving around outside of buildings took a little getting used to for those who visited the moon. Boran had to adjust his normally determined footsteps so he didn't bounce right over the hired vehicle that was waiting on the tarmac to take him into Matunos' main city.

When Boran reached the hilltop restaurant, he paid the driver and paused to take in the magnificent view of the city below. The buildings were bathed in the reddish glow of sunset, and rising just over the spaceport on the horizon sat the planet of Timar itself. It looked almost close enough to touch. So close, yet so far, he thought.

As he entered the lobby, Boran felt the building's artificial gravity take hold. He was shown to a table on the far end. The table was set off from the others, offering a bit more privacy.

As Boran approached, he recognised the face of Hila's friend, who stood and pulled out the other chair for his guest.

Boran sat in the proffered chair and ordered a drink from their server.

"It is good to see you, Jaloc." Boran said. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice."

Jaloc was a good ten years younger than Boran. In contrast to Boran's short black hair with touches of grey, Jaloc had a mane of long, golden blond hair that touched his shoulders. And unlike Boran, who pulled on the high neck of his jacket collar, Jaloc looked very comfortable dressed in the latest fashion.

The server promptly returned with Boran's drink order. Boran took a moment to enjoy a sip his drink. Once the server was out of earshot, he got to the point. "Did Hila tell you what we wanted?"

"She said you wanted some information, but not what information exactly."

"We are interested in the whereabouts of one Aloyd First-Class, Kikola ap Karthen. We believe she recently came to Timar with a striker group commanded by the Sword ."

"Now you know as well as I do how tight the security is on Timar," Jaloc said. "I would not be privy to the comings and goings of a particular aloyd." Jaloc nervously played with the stem of his cocktail glass.

Boran placed his hand over Jaloc's hand. The blond-haired man stiffened and moved his hand away. Undaunted, Boran leaned in and ran his index finger lightly over the length of Jaloc's fingers. "We both know you can find out that information. You just need the right inducement."

Boran's hand slipped underneath the table and settled on Jaloc's thigh. He felt Jaloc's body respond, and this time the younger man didn't pull away.

"You think you can seduce me to get information?" Jaloc weakly protested.

Boran's fingers slowly travelled up the inside seam of Jaloc's tight-fitting trouser leg. "Are you saying you wouldn't enjoy it?"

"No…" Jaloc's eyes widened as the older man applied the lightest of pressure against Jaloc's bulge. "I'm not saying that."

Boran was pleased to feel Jaloc's erection becoming harder – straining against the fabric of his trousers. "Good."

Now that he held the younger man's attention, Boran said, "I need to know what has happened to Karthen – is she still on Timar or has she left? If so, where has she gone? Any information you can get on her will find me very grateful."

Boran's fingers moved lower into Jaloc's lap, and he fondled the young man's balls. Jaloc chewed his lip trying to stifle a discreet moan. "Okay, okay…" The young man surrendered. "I will call my contact and see what I can find out."

Boran smiled and moved his hand above the table again. He grasped his drink and finished it in one gulp. "Shall we go to your place?"

Jaloc called out, "Bill please."


Years of sleeping on an aging freighter, which could develop a fault at any time, had conditioned Hila to be a very light sleeper, so when she heard a noise, she immediately awoke. It wasn't Kamina; she was contentedly sleeping beside her. Hila was awake enough to recognise the noise was coming from the other bunkroom.

Hila climbed out of bed without waking Kamina. She grabbed for a shirt and trousers that were cast aside when they went to bed together, which was almost as soon as Boran had left.

Hila made her way around to Boran's bunkroom and knocked on the door.

"Come in," the weary voice replied.

Boran was sitting on his bunk removing his shoes. He looked up as Hila entered the room and whispered, "I didn't mean to wake you."

"No worries," she replied. "So, how did it go?"

"The sex was good but the news – not so good." Boran paused to remove his jacket, and then he continued to fill Hila in on the 'not so good' news. "Jaloc was able to find out that Karthen's ships left Timar two days ago under the command of another aloyd."

"What about—" Hila started.

"Karthen?" Boran finished what she was about to say. "Jaloc couldn't find out anything more than that, which means if Karthen is still on Timar then there is no way to get to her. If she has been transferred elsewhere, then there has been no record of it – at least no record that Jaloc's contact in the Quartermaster's department had clearance for."

"So what's our next move?" Hila asked.

Knowing it was unwise to stake out a military base, Boran reluctantly decided they should return to Shibato until they got a new lead.

"So close," he muttered.

"Don't give up," said Hila. "We'll find Karthen and get Tehvay back."

"How?" He did little to mask his frustration. "The trail has gone cold. There's nothing else we can do. All this time, effort, and money were for nothing." He balled up his expensive suit jacket and threw it on the floor.

Hila sat down heavily on the bed next to him and patted his leg. "Hey, Boran Zerbilla is no quitter," she said, trying to offer encouragement.

Boran tried to rub the stress from his temples. "It's not just that the trail has gone cold. I feel like I have failed Tehvay."

Hila tried to offer her friend the bright side of things. "Don't worry. Hegemony space might be vast, but it is finite. We will find her."

Boran had a pained expression on his face. "I said that I would always look after her, protect her. Now she's a slave again… Orion knows where, having who knows what being done to her!"

Hila drew back. She hadn't realised until then that her friend was harbouring some dark fear about Tehvay. "Wherever Tehvay is, I'm sure she is safe."

Boran shot her a look like he was being crushed under the weight of his own worry and guilt. "You don't understand! Tehvay told me things… things that her previous owners had done to her – humiliating, despicable, vile things."

Hila encouraged her friend to get it off his chest, and she listened to Boran as he shared some of the stories Tehvay had shared with him.

"If those things are happening again," he continued, "I don't know how she'll cope. The longer it takes to find her, the more I think she might…"

"Don't worry. From what you've told me, Tehvay is a survivor. Besides, we know she's with Karthen, and the Elit don't mistreat their slaves."

Boran looked at her quizzically.

"Or so I've heard," Hila added.

Boran shrugged his shoulders. "Karthen may not abuse Tehvay, but we know someone tried to kill Karthen, so Tehvay's life is still in danger."

"Then we will redouble our efforts to find them. And when we do, Karthen will pay," Hila replied.

Boran frowned. "No. I told you, I don't want us going after Karthen with weapons blazing. We don't know what she is capable of, and I don't want Tehvay getting caught in the crossfire."

"Oh, I know what Karthen is capable of," Hila mumbled under her breath.

Boran looked at her intently. "What do you mean? Do you know her?"

"Uh, no, but I know her kind. She's Elit, and they all toe the party line – aloyds doubly so. She won't give up her property without a fight."

"Since when are you such an expert on the Elit all of a sudden?"

The conversation was veering in a direction Hila did not want it to go. "I've been ploughing around the galaxy long enough to have learned a thing or two about Elit – just leave it at that," she said as she stood up and left the bunkroom.


After their return to Shibato, Boran had suggested Hila and Kamina use the guest cottage on his estate for a few days rest and relaxation. They'd been running around the galaxy for weeks and needed a break, plus it would give him a few days to catch up on business before they tried again to pick up Karthen and Tehvay's trail.

The sun was nearly at its zenith, and Hila was dozing under the shade of a large parasol next to a swimming pool. She didn't want to be dozing; she wanted to be watching Kamina effortlessly slicing through the water, but the sun's warmth and the alcohol in the drinks were compelling her eyelids to shut.

"Hey!" called Kamina and splashed water over Hila's feet, which woke her up. "Join me."

Hila raised the tinted glasses protecting her eyes and peered at the young woman. "Nah, I'll stay here and watch."

"You're not watching, you're sleeping."

"I'm sorry. It's not that you're not pleasant to watch," Hila replied. "I'm just having trouble keeping my eyes open."

"Perhaps you'd rather do something more than watch?" asked Kamina suggestively. She pushed herself up from the water and approached Hila.

The sight of Kamina coming towards her – her swim costume clinging to her shapely form, her long dark brown hair dripping water into her cleavage, the light reflecting off the water droplets in a thousand different directions – it was mesmerising. Hila forgot all about how tired she was.

Kamina swung a leg over the recumbent woman and stood straddling her stomach.

Hila grinned. "You're dripping on me."

"What can I say? You make me dripping wet." As if to demonstrate, Kamina slid her right hand down and massaged her crotch through the flimsy wet material of her costume. "Do you still want to watch?"

"Everything looks great from where I am, so yeah," Hila replied enthusiastically.

The young woman was happy to indulge her lover. Her hand found its way inside her swim costume and fingered her clitoris while her hips swayed.

Hila felt her own heat spreading through her groin as she continued to watch Kamina's seductive dance. Finally, Hila could no longer just watch her lover becoming aroused; she wanted to participate.

She rose up and put her mouth where Kamina's fingers were. Moving the fabric aside, Hila playfully sucked and nipped at the girl's clit. Kamina quietly moaned. Her knees grew weaker with every stroke of Hila's tongue. When she could no longer stand, Kamina dropped down onto Hila's stomach. This gave Hila easy access to Kamina's breasts. She could feel Kamina's nipples harden in her mouth as she caressed the firm, brown tips.

Kamina leaned in and whispered. "Let's go somewhere private, or would you like to do it here?"

Hila ran her hands up the slick thighs pinning her down. "I might like to watch, but I don't like others watching." She placed a kiss on Kamina's moist lips. "Let's go. I'm going to—"

"Don't let me interrupt you," said a cold voice.

Hila's grin disappeared as she looked up into the stony face of Tana Zerbilla. "What do you want?"

"My father wants to see you – now. He has a guest he says you should meet."

"Hi, Tana!" said Kamina brightly, looking up from Hila's breasts.

"Yeah, hi," Boran's daughter replied grudgingly.

Hila's grin returned, because she could tell that Tana didn't know what to make of Kamina. The teenager was upbeat and friendly, and much to Hila's amusement that seemed to confuse Boran's daughter. Hila half suspected Kamina did it on purpose.

Tana shook her head and stalked away. "He's in his study," she called over her shoulder. "Don't keep him waiting."


Boran sat at his desk staring at the unexpected guest sitting opposite him. The guest stared back. The long, drawn out silence was broken when Hila and Kamina arrived.

Boran wasted no time in getting to the point of the meeting. "Hila, Kamina... let me introduce you."

Boran's guest stood up and turned to face the new arrivals.

"This is Aloyd Kikola ap Karthen," Boran said with a crooked smile.

Boran saw Hila's hand instinctively reach for her weapon, but she wasn't carrying it. She tried to cover it by crossing her arms.

" The Aloyd Karthen?" Kamina asked Boran. "Wow, I was expecting… well, not a normal looking woman. Er… I mean…"

Hila fixed a suspicious gaze on Boran. "What is she doing here?" she asked.

"She wants me… us to help her get Tehvay back," he said.

"What? Say that again." Hila looked stunned. "She wants us to help her get Tehvay back? From where? And why?"

"That's what I'd like to know," said Boran. He fixed a steely gaze on the aloyd. "Would you like to explain? Where is Tehvay?"

Hila and Kamina moved to Boran's side. All three stood and faced the aloyd, eager to hear her explanation.

Aloyd Karthen sat back down in the comfortable chair and related the story of how and why she and Tehvay were separated.

"Tehvay is on Alopan. I was ordered to give her to the Taliss family."

"Ordered? By who?" asked Boran.

"The Council – as compensation."

"I don't understand," Boran said. "Compensation for what?"

"I killed Supreme-Aloyd Taliss."

"Impossible. Elit do not kill other Elit," Hila scoffed.

"He hired someone to assassinate me on Otopa," the aloyd calmly explained.

"Yes, we heard about the attempt on your life and his death," said Kamina. "Well, some aloyd's death."

Karthen's eyebrow arched upward as she regarded the young woman. "How did you hear that?"

"That's another story for another time," Boran interjected. "Please continue."

"There were slaves present when I killed him. One of them was traumatised and had to be put down. The Council decreed that I give Tehvay to the Taliss family as compensation," Karthen replied. "Believe me, I could do nothing at the time to stop it."

That gave Boran hope that at least now they knew Tehvay's whereabouts.

"I don't believe one word of this," Hila said stepping forward to challenge Karthen.

Aloyd Karthen stood up and squared off with Llyte. "Elit do not lie."

The two of them stared at each other. Boran touched Hila's arm and nodded his head for her to back off, which she did, but not without one last glare. Karthen remained composed.

To break the tension, Boran decided to move the discussion to a less confined place. He directed everyone to an outside sitting area on the patio connected to his office – making sure Hila sat on the opposite side of the table from Aloyd Karthen. He picked up a chilled pitcher of juice from a side table and poured drinks.

When everyone was settled, Boran continued his interview with their guest. "Okay, so you've explained what happened to you, and Tehvay, but you have not explained why you are here asking us for help."

"There was a possibility that The Council could have ordered my execution for killing Aloyd Taliss," Karthen explained. "So, I revealed this to Tehvay beforehand, and she mentioned your name as someone to whom I could bequeath her if worse came to worse."

"Worse? That would've been the better outcome if you ask me," Hila derided.

Kamina gave Hila a nudge and Boran gave her a disapproving look.

"You didn't answer my question," pressed Boran.

The uniformed woman put her glass down and leaned in towards the businessman to make her appeal directly to him. "Tehvay told me how you helped her escape from slavery once. I have no one else to whom I can turn for help. If Tehvay trusts you, then I trust you."

Ever the astute businessman, Boran knew a bad deal when he heard one. Something wasn't adding up. "You're not making sense. Why would I help you get Tehvay back just so she could be returned to you, her previous owner?"

Karthen at first looked confused, then she realised that she left out one very important detail. "Because I…I love her."

Her revelation was met with stunned looks from Boran and Hila.

"That's so sweet," whispered Kamina loud enough for all to hear.

Everyone turned to look at her.

"Well it is," she said defensively. "The evil aloyd losing her heart to the simple slave."

"Tehvay is not simple," countered Boran and Karthen together.

"I didn't mean…" Kamina blushed and looked down into her empty glass. "Sorry. I was just romanticising."

"This is crazy." Hila jumped up and leaned across the table to challenge the aloyd. "It is impossible for an Elit to fall in love with a slave."

"It is possible. I am proof."

Boran gestured for Hila to sit back down, and she did with a 'humph'.

"We only have your word for it," Boran noted cautiously. "Tehvay may say something different."

"Then help me get her back and you can ask her yourself."

"I don't trust her," Hila inserted her opinion. "This must be a trap."

"What sort of trap?" Karthen asked Hila dismissively.

Hila had no immediate answer. The aloyd ignored her and again spoke directly to Boran. "I came here because you are a friend of Tehvay and I need your help to rescue her. I know what kind of business you run here; some of it is illegal. Tehvay told me. I could easily call the local security forces and have you arrested. Even easier, I could order this place bombed from orbit."

"Really? Been given command of a new striker group, have you?" Hila queried sarcastically.

The aloyd eyed Hila suspiciously. "You seem to know a lot of sensitive information about me."

"Oh, you'd be surprised," Hila replied. "We know the striker group you commanded is now commanded by a new aloyd. I can also see you're now an Aloyd, Third-Class. They are usually in charge of stations, planetary outposts or given a desk job at Command Headquarters."

"The Council voted to demote me for killing Taliss." Karthen bristled slightly. "The point is, I have no reason to set a trap for you."

"Okay," said Boran. "Assuming this isn't a trap, what do you intend to do when we get Tehvay back?"

"Run," she said sombrely. "There is no other option for me."

"Run? Ha!" Hila jumped out of her seat and stepped away, pointing an accusing finger at Karthen. "Now I know you are lying. Of all the roles for the Elit, being an aloyd is the most prestigious. The sacrifices and training are far greater than for anything else." Again she approached the aloyd. "No one goes through all that to throw it away – not when it will bring the greatest dishonour on her family."

"Hila, sit down," Boran said sternly.

Karthen had remained seated and composed, not allowing Llyte to bait her into a confrontation. "I told you, Elit do not lie."

Throughout the conversation with Aloyd Karthen, Boran had been sizing her up, reading her body language to see if there was any deception. He detected none. "I believe you are telling the truth," Boran confirmed. "But there is one thing you haven't addressed to my satisfaction."

"What is that?" Kikola asked earnestly.

"Tehvay. What do you intend for her – if we were to help you?"

Karthen lowered her eyes, clearly fighting back emotions. "I hope she will come with me."

"And if she doesn't want to go with you?" the cautious businessman asked.

Karthen looked at Boran intently. "I cannot entertain that thought. I love her and she loves me."

"But is she free to choose? Will she be free?"

"Neither of us will be free."

Confusion was etched across Boran's brow.

"We will both be fugitives from The Hegemony," Karthen explained. "But yes, she will be free to choose her own path. I hope she chooses me. Without Tehvay, my life will have no meaning."

Finally Boran was convinced by Karthen's simple declaration of love and her determination to get Tehvay back. He had heard all he needed to hear. He pushed his seat back and said, "I better go and tell my daughter to look after things again. We are going to Alopan!"


Once again, they were leaving Shibato in pursuit of Tehvay, but this time, Boran had confidence in their success. This time, he not only had Hila and Kamina on his team; he had Aloyd Karthen – a very powerful ally, though still not a member of his inner circle of trust. That trust had yet to be earned.

Since they were going to Alopan, Boran thought the team would benefit from the inclusion of Marleen and her husband Tremothen – two of his most trusted associates. Marleen was desperate to help get Tehvay back. She felt some responsibility for not being with Tehvay when she was captured, and Tremothen knew people on Alopan.

Boran had a private pleasure cruiser that he used to wine and dine his clients. It had enough cabins to accommodate twelve people – more than enough for their team of six, which was too many for the Glyndwr .

Marleen and Tremothen were seated in the lounge with Boran, discussing their options for their arrival on Alopan. Aloyd Karthen came from the direction of the lavatory and approached them.

"Where were we?" the aloyd asked.

"Tremothen has a distant cousin who lives in the capital city, Taltre. He's the sort who knows people that might be able to get inside the Taliss estate," said Boran. "This is our best option for gaining access to Tehvay."

"I prefer the direct approach," said Marleen. "You could just go and make the Taliss family an offer for Tehvay," the woman said to Karthen.

"I could not…because of the circumstances."

"Okay, then we'll go and make an offer."

"The Elit do not deal in slaves that way," said Karthen. "If they want to buy or sell a slave, then they will make the overtures. Anyone approaching them with an offer to buy or sell will be ignored."

"What? All Elit?"


"Maybe the Taliss family are differ—."

"They are not."

Marleen's face flushed with anger.

"We'll consider it as a last resort," Boran offered the thin-faced woman with the greying hair as a way of appeasing Marleen's wounded ego.

"My apologies," the Elit officer said. "I know you're only trying to help." The aloyd glanced around the table. "I am glad Tehvay has such good friends looking after her."


Five hours into the journey, and still five and a half days from their destination, there was no need for Hila to still be in the cockpit. The autopilot was engaged and would alert them to any deviation, yet the spacer sat in the pilot seat scanning the controls and readouts.

Kamina sat in the co-pilot seat watching Hila. "I'm bored, let's go do something."

"Do what?" asked Hila.


Hila turned her head to look at the younger woman. "There's plenty on this ship to keep you from being bored. There's an observation lounge, games room, swimming pool, sauna—"

"There's no swimming pool on this ship," Kamina contested.

"I just threw that in there to see if you were paying attention," Hila said with a wink.

"The observation lounge is no good at light speed, because there is nothing to observe. And the games room… well I can't play with myself." Kamina smiled. "Come with me. I'm sure we can find something better to do… together."

"It's too early to turn in. Besides, I'm busy, Kami."

"Kamina." The correction was automatic. "And, no you're not."

"This thing doesn't fly itself," the ebony-haired woman pointed out.

"As a matter of fact it does. This thing is not going anywhere or doing anything that you didn't program it to do. Even on the Glyndwr you didn't need to spend this long in the 'pit," the young woman whinged. Kamina became serious, going straight to the heart of the matter. "Admit it, you're hiding up here because you're trying to avoid Aloyd Karthen."

Hila's lips thinned and her eyes stayed focussed on the instruments, but it was obvious to Kamina that she had struck a nerve.

"I don't understand," Kamina said, trying to get Hila to open up to her. "What is it about her you don't like?"

"Everything," Hila replied tight-jawed.

Kamina tried persuasion to get Hila to change her mind. "Well, I think Aloyd Karthen's amazing. Think about it, won't you? She's come here alone, asking us to help her free the woman she loves, knowing that in doing so, she will be exiled from the only life she's known. How can you not feel sympathy for her?"

"Sympathy for her ? She killed a superior officer. Anyone else would have been executed, but not..." An angry look flashed across Hila's face. " Her! "

"I don't know what it is about her that's got your knickers in a twist, but I like her—"

Hila cut Kamina off. "Go pester Karthen if you like her so much. I'm busy." She turned back to the instruments.

"Don't shut me down like that! I'm not a child!" Kamina got angry. "If anyone is a child around here, it's you!"

"I already told you, I don't want to talk about it. Do I have to draw you a picture?"

"Fine! Suit yourself!" Kamina pushed herself out of co-pilot's seat and stormed out of the cockpit.


Hila thought about following Kamina. Why does Kami have to be such a kid? I'll leave it a while. It was an hour before Hila cooled down enough to go looking for Kamina. Hila found her in their cabin. The lights were turned off, and Kamina was in bed with her back to the door, seemingly asleep.

Hila quietly slipped into the room, out of her clothes, and into bed. The fact that she wasn't kicked out straight away, Hila took as a good sign.

She nestled close to Kamina's naked body and whispered, "Are you awake."

She was met with an icy silence.

"No," was Kamina's eventually reply.

Hila slipped an arm around Kamina and pulled her close. She tenderly kissed Kamina's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I'm a jerk."

"A childish jerk."

"A childish jerk," agreed Hila. "A childish jerk who loves you and doesn't deserve you."

The young woman relaxed, turned within Hila's embrace to face her, and returned her kiss with more passion.

Hila was not really in the mood; however she wasn't about to admit it to Kamina after just getting back in her good graces. So Hila decided to make it quick. She skipped the slow build up and manoeuvred herself on top of Kamina. Her hips settled between the young woman's thighs. She paused briefly to coax her young lover's nipples erect. Kamina squirmed and mewled in delight, which pleased Hila. She slid further down under the covers, allowing her lips to lightly brush over Kamina's nicely toned abs as she descended.

The young woman spread her legs wider apart, allowing Hila easier access to her centre of pleasure. It never failed to amaze Hila at how wet Kamina was down there – and how tight. Kamina let out an encouraging moan when Hila eased her fingers inside. Hila ventured deeper inside, feeling the silken walls of her young lover's vagina tighten around her fingers as she slowly withdrew and entered again. Hila's experienced mouth and tongue went to work on Kamina's clitoris at the same time.

Kamina's breath quickened, and her hips rose and fell to match Hila's pace. When Hila sensed that Kamina's climax was imminent, she thrust her fingers in and out, deep and fast while her mouth sucked harder on the hooded pearl. It pushed her young lover to the edge and beyond, and Kamina's legs twitched in a little dance as she cried out in orgasm. Hila's fingers glided in and out gently a few more times before she removed them completely. Her tongue gave Kamina's clit one final flick, causing the young woman to utter a last gasp as she sunk back onto the bed, utterly spent.

Hila surfaced from under the bedclothes. Kamina's hand found Hila's buttocks and gave it a playful squeeze as she nibbled on Hila's neck. Kamina's hand moved between her lover's thighs.

Hila stopped Kamina's hand before it reached its destination.

"I'm tired," said Hila. "In the morning, okay?"

"What's wrong?"

"I said I'm tired." Hila turned her back to Kamina and pulled the bedclothes over her shoulder.


"I don't want to talk."

Kamina sighed, climbed out of bed and got dressed, leaving Hila to her brooding slumber.


The lower deck contained an exercise room and Kikola found some solitude in it. The mindless pounding on the treadmill dulled her feelings, and pushed away the pain of missing Tehvay.

She looked down at the readout on the treadmill. It informed her that she had been running for twenty-five minutes. Not enough, she thought. She put her head down and picked up the pace.

The door opened and Kikola looked up. Kamina entered – seeming rather glum.

The young woman saw Kikola, and froze with a surprised look on her face. "S-sorry, I didn't mean to disturb," she said.

Kikola slowed her pace and came to a stop. "That's all right. You are not disturbing me." Of the other five people on board, Kikola found Kamina the most likeable, and the most honest of the group. The others always looked like they were hiding something when they spoke to her, but Kamina had an open, honest way about her. She reminded Kikola of Tehvay in that way.

"I just came in to…" she looked around the room before settling her gaze on Kikola, "to hide. But now I'm here," she said, gesturing to a punch bag, "I think I'll hit something."

Kikola started running again as Kamina went over to the punch bag. The girl's technique was all wrong, but Kikola felt it wasn't her place to say anything. She was not in command here.

After a few more minutes, Kikola stopped and dismounted the treadmill. She picked up a towel and wiped the sweat from her face. When she removed the towel, Kikola saw that the young woman was holding a cup of water out to her.

"Thank you, Kamina." Kikola accepted the cup, sat down on a nearby bench, and took a drink.

"I like that you call me 'Kamina'. Hila always calls me 'Kami'. I guess she still thinks I'm a little girl."

"She should abide by your wishes and call you by your given name."

Kikola regarded the young woman with the almond eyes and pretty face, barely noticing the scar on Kamina's cheek until she brushed her hair forward to cover it.

Clearly Kamina was self-conscious about it, so Kikola didn't want to embarrass her further by asking her how she came by the scar. Besides, talking about Kamina's scar would just bring up memories of that awful day on Otopa when Tehvay was shot. At least Tehvay will not have any scars from that experience , Kikola thought, at least no visible scars .

Kikola was not aware that she had been staring into her cup until Kamina cleared her throat.

"What do your friends call you?" the teen asked.

"They usually call me by my first name – Kikola."

Kamina laughed. "I meant do they have a nickname for you?"

"My family members sometimes call me Kiko."

"Kiko…," Kamina said as if trying the word out. "Do you like being called Kiko?"

"I have not given it any thought," Kikola shrugged. "I like my family, so I guess it doesn't bother me."

"Kiko! Kikola!" Kamina chanted softly in a singsong voice. "Would you mind if I called you Kiko?"

"I guess not. It changes the meaning, but not many people know that names have meaning."

"Meaning?" Kamina sat down on the bench next to Kikola. "I thought they were just names."

"Maybe some are, but most names have a meaning," Kikola explained.

"What does my name mean?"

"Kamina means 'silent dawn'."

"And Kami?"

"Kami means… that's a difficult one to translate from its original meaning. It's a kind of light, an essence, spirit if you like. A… 'pure soul'."

"Oh, maybe it's not so bad after all. What about Kikola?"

"It means 'strength'."

"And Kiko? How does that change the meaning?"

"Kiko means 'balanced breathing'."

Kamina giggled.

"My second name is Mariantha," Kikola continued, warming to the subject. "It is my mother's name, and it means 'a daughter of a leader'. And my third—"

"Third! How many do you have?" Kamina asked.

"Just three forenames and a family name," Kikola replied.

"Do all Elit have so many names?"

"Some only have two forenames, and some have more. It just depends."

"How do you decide what names and what order?"

"In most families the first son will have his father's first name as his second name, and the first daughter will have her mother's first name as a second name. The first name is decided by the parents and can be anything they like. If the child has a third or more forenames, they are usually historical names from the family. My third name, Jacand, is the name of the founding Karthen."

"Founding? What's that?"

"The Kalenth Hegemony. Jacand ap Karthen was one of the founders."

"Well, I've only got one name."

"It is a very pretty name."

Kamina blushed and looked down at her feet. "I'm sorry for calling you 'evil' yesterday."

"There is no need to apologise. I suppose from your point of view I must be evil."

"No! Not at all."

"I am sure there are others that would disagree with you." Kikola glanced in the general direction of the ship's cockpit.

"Hila is suspicious of everyone when she first meets them," Kamina replied. "She'll warm up to you, I'm sure."

"Perhaps she is right to be suspicious of me. I have done awful things. I have killed people."

"You mean Aloyd Taliss? He tried to have you killed. You did what you thought was right."

"Yes, and Tehvay paid the price for my actions." Kikola allowed her exasperation to crack the thin veneer of her emotional control. "But the worst thing I ever did was not stand up for Tehvay." Kikola stared down at the drink in her hand. "She must hate me."

"No. I'm sure she doesn't." Kamina laid a reassuring hand on Kikola's shoulder. "We'll get her back, and you'll see she still loves you."

The door opened. "What's going on?" Hila demanded. She stood in the doorway glaring at Kikola. "Kami, get away from her."

"Hila, it—"

"I said, get away from her."

"I didn't realise Kamina was your slave," said Kikola.

"She's not!"

"Then don't order her as such."

"Don't you tell me what to do!" Llyte exclaimed.

The hot-tempered woman did not intimidate Kikola, and to prove it she stood up and took a few steps towards Llyte. "There. I have moved. Kamina can stay put if she likes."

Llyte ignored Kikola and looked directly at her girlfriend. "I don't want you within five metres of Karthen."

"Hila, you are being ridiculous. She was just telling me about Tehvay."

"I don't care." Llyte then confronted Kikola. "And you – stay away from her, or—"

Kikola found this whole thing to be exceedingly tedious, but she was not going to stand there and be threatened. She squared her shoulders and met Llyte's glare. "Or what?"

As soon as she saw Llyte's muscles tense, Kikola's instincts and training took over, and sent the ebony-haired woman flying across the room – knocking over equipment before hitting a wall and sliding to the floor. Llyte was dazed for only a moment, but shook it off and then climbed to her feet, ready to attack again.

"Hila, stop it!" Kamina said.

Llyte ignored Kamina and charged at Kikola again; and again she found herself on the floor with the aloyd standing over her.

"Stay down," Kikola warned her.

Hila ignored the instruction and found a foot planted on her throat. "I am no threat to you," continued Kikola. "Don't make me one."

"Kiko, please let her go," Kamina spoke gently.

With Llyte struggling to push Kikola's foot away, Kikola looked over her shoulder at Kamina. "I think it would be best if you avoid being in a room alone with me from now on. That way your girlfriend won't do anything stupid."

Kikola removed her foot and walked out.


Boran knew that in business one doesn't become successful or make a lot of money without teamwork. So if their rescue mission was to have any hope of success, everyone had to find a way to work together – if not for their own sakes, then for Tehvay's sake. It was time he made it clear to Hila and Kamina that their behaviour towards Aloyd Karthen was disrupting the harmony of the group. He had them come to a private meeting in the lounge. As soon as the two women took their seats, Boran talked to them like a father would.

"The altercation in the exercise room – I want to know what started it," Boran began.

"That bitch had her hands all over Kami!" Hila exclaimed.

"No she didn't!"

Hila shot an angry look at Kamina.

"Kiko is actually quite nice if you get to know her."

Hila sneered. "Oh, is that what you were doing… 'getting to know her'."

"What does that mean?"

"You were about to kiss her when I walked in," Hila replied. "And don't bother to deny it."

"Oh! First she had her hands all over me, and then I was about to kiss her. Make up your mind about what you think you saw!"

"Orion's Balls!" Boran exclaimed. "This adolescent behaviour is getting out of hand!"

"I'm not the one making things up!" Kamina shouted.

"Kamina, you stop flirting with Karthen," he said sternly, "and Hila, you stop acting like you're a rutting stag every time Karthen comes near you or Kamina."

"I was not flirting with her!" Kamina protested. "I was offering her some support. She's hurting without Tehvay. Can't you see that?"

"All I can see is some bitch hitting on my girlfriend!"

"Enough! What do I have to do, knock your heads together?" Boran sighed. "Kamina, whatever you were doing, or not doing, it's best if you steer clear of Karthen."

"Well, it's not best for Kiko. She needs a friend."

"Then, I'll be her friend!" Boran said, frustrated. He continued in a calmer tone of voice. "Just please give her some space. If she wants to be social, she will be. Understand?"

"All right," Kamina said tearfully.

He then turned to Hila and pointed a warning finger at her. "And you… I don't know what has got up your nose about Aloyd Karthen, but like it or not, she is a part of this team. So unless or until she gives me a reason not to trust her, you stop trying to provoke her at every turn."

Boran paused, allowing his words to sink in to Hila's thick skull, but her posture remained defensive. He decided he needed to be more direct. "From the boot print on your neck, I can see that Karthen could kick your arse, so you steer clear of her as well."

Hila was about to protest, but Boran cut her off. "Got it?"

She had been sitting there with her arms crossed, scowling throughout Boran's scolding. She finally unfolded her arms and gave in. "Yeah, got it."

Having won the battle of wills with Hila, Boran gave them another piece of fatherly advice. "And one more thing: if Kamina and Karthen are in the same room together don't jump to conclusions and just trust the woman you love!"

When Boran was done lecturing, he looked at them both and shook his head. "The two of you are a right pair. You are obviously crazy about each other, so why don't you start acting like it."

The two women looked sheepishly at the floor before venturing to look at each other.

"Good," said Boran. "Now you've got some kissing and making up to do. Don't make too much noise." He winked.


After the incident with Llyte, Kikola wanted nothing more than to find a quiet place where she could get away from all the tension. Her own cabin, it would seem, was the only place on this ship where she could be alone with her thoughts – and her thoughts were always on Tehvay.

Kikola reached into her inside pocket, took out a small red-coloured pill, and swallowed it. She was still taking the diproxaline, even though it did nothing to block the feelings that kept clawing just below the surface of reason.

She missed Tehvay with a longing that felt like someone had stabbed and gutted her, and no amount of diproxaline was going to cure her of that – the only cure for that was seeing Tehvay again, holding Tehvay. And the only way she was ever going to do that was to do the hardest thing of all: rely on Boran and his team to help her, rather than rely on herself. Kikola straightened up and stuffed her emotions back into the internal compartment where they were safe from exposure.

Her solitude was interrupted by a knock on the door. She opened it to find Boran. He apologised for disturbing her and explained the reason for his visit.

"Aloyd Karthen—"

"Please, call me Kikola. My being an aloyd seems to cause trouble with your friends."

"Kikola," Boran repeated. "I feel I must apologise for what happened in the exercise room."

"No need." She gestured for him to have a seat in one of the occasional chairs, while she took the other.

"Still, I have had a talk with both Hila and Kamina. And you won't have any more trouble out of either one of them."

"Kamina is no trouble. Llyte, on the other hand…"

"I know. I don't know what has got into her. She is not usually this openly hostile with someone she's just met. I have no explanation for it – other than she is in love, and love makes people say and do crazy things."

Kikola felt the sting of truth in Boran's observations. "Yes, it does."

For a few moments neither one spoke. It was Kikola who finally breached the silence.

"May I ask you a question?" Kikola asked.

"All right," Boran said warily.

"If you care for Tehvay so much that you would risk all to rescue her now, then why did you allow her to go to Kalenth with Marleen? It was too much of a risk for a fugitive slave."

Boran glanced down at his shoes, as though the answer to the question he had probably asked himself over and over again was there. "She was free. If I had said 'no', or ever stopped her from leaving my estate, then she would still be a slave. She wanted to go." He smiled ruefully. "Once she learned to think for herself and develop a personality of her own, she became a hard woman to say 'no' to."

Kikola allowed herself a smile. "I don't think she has ever really asked me for anything, but if she did, I would give it to her." Kikola's vision blurred. "If she had just… said… something, 'Don't let them take me.', anything, then I wouldn't have left. I would have turned around, taken her hand and walked out of there with her." She wiped away the tear that ran down her cheek.

Boran allowed Kikola a moment to compose herself before speaking. "Did she tell you how she and I met?" Boran asked.

"Yes, she did."

"Well, then you know the circumstances. Tehvay was so grateful for her freedom, she kept trying to find ways to repay me. I assured her it was not necessary, but she kept insisting. Finally I relented and let her go with Marleen," Boran explained. "By the way, that may explain why Marleen seems a little pushy about the rescue. She carries a lot of guilt for not keeping Tehvay safe."

"I see," Kikola replied pensively. "I guess I owe Marleen a debt of gratitude."

"Oh, why's that?"

"Because if Marleen had stopped Tehvay from being recaptured, I never would have met her."

"True, I hadn't thought about it that way," Boran replied. "I have another question, and I want an honest answer," Boran added.

"Elit do not lie."

The dark-haired man chuckled. "Yes, so you've said. Well, then tell me honestly, why would you risk everything for a slave?"

"You have asked me that before. I told you, I love Tehvay."

"Yes, you did," Boran replied. "But you haven't said why you love Tehvay."

"I have never stopped to analyse why I love her," Kikola confessed. "I guess because she is like no one I have ever met before. Everything about Elit society is ordered, structured, governed by millennia of tradition and rules. I was taught that things are one way and one way only from the moment I was born. Tehvay was just… different… beautiful…There is a nobility about her, despite her circumstances." Kikola paused as if reaching deep inside her soul. "She challenges me to be a better person."

Boran smiled at Kikola. "That she does."

When the mission leader stood up to leave, Kikola stood as well and accompanied him to the door. "My thanks, Boran. It feels good to talk about Tehvay to someone who loves her as much as I do."

"Look, Tehvay is family to me. I love her like a daughter, so that makes you family in my book. If you need to talk, need a friend – need anything, you come to me. Okay?"

Kikola weighed up his words. Perhaps he was being genuine, or perhaps he was just being polite. Either way it was a gesture of friendship that Kikola was learning to appreciate. And after Tehvay was back safe, the two of them would need friends. "I will, thank you."


The rest of the trip to Alopan passed quickly and peacefully. As soon as the pleasure cruiser had touched down at the spaceport on Alopan, Tremothen went into Taltre to meet with his cousin. When he came back to the cruiser a few hours later, everyone gathered in the lounge to hear what his cousin had to say. It was time to put their rescue plan into action.

"I got the names of some people my cousin thinks could be useful – for the right number of credits," said the burly man with the shock of unnaturally red hair. "I'm leaving now to go and see them."

"I still don't like the idea of you going alone," his wife Marleen said. "I should go with you."

"No, Marleen. That part of the city can be rough."

"I will go with you," Kikola offered.

"No," Tremothen disagreed. "I turn up with you, and they'll start running. They'll probably start shooting first."

"Why? They don't know me."

"You're an aloyd," Boran explained.

Kikola looked down at her uniformed body. "I could wear something else."

"You're Elit, you idiot," Hila muttered.

"Hila!" Boran cautioned her.

"Sorry," Hila replied rather unconvincingly.

Boran registered his displeasure with a frown. He turned back to Kikola. "What she meant is, even out of the uniform you scream Elit. Your bearing, your manner, the way you speak, your accent."

Kikola looked at the others, nonplussed. "Do I?"

"There's nothing wrong with that," Kamina chimed in. "Only that it might be best if these people don't know about you."

"That makes sense," conceded Kikola.

"Okay," said Tremothen. "These people should know someone who can get us into the Taliss estate, or can get into it for us. But…"

Boran nodded at what was left unsaid. "Don't worry about that."

"Don't worry about what?" asked Kikola.

"Money," said Boran. "They won't be helping us out of the kindness of their hearts."

"Money is no problem. I can give you whatever it takes." A frown creased Kikola's forehead. "I am sorry, I didn't think. Do you require money for helping me?"

"No." Boran held up a hand to stop her. "We are doing this for Tehvay, not money."

"I'm not," said Hila. "I'm getting paid for this."

"Have you paid her?" asked Kikola.

Boran nodded.

"I will compensate you for what you have paid her."

"That won't be necessary," Boran replied.

"As you wish." Karthen turned to Tremothen. "How long do you think it will be before your cousin's friends come up with a way into the Taliss compound?"

"I have no idea. This is not something I've asked of them before."

"Then how do you know they can do it?"

"My cousin assured me that if his contacts can't, then they'll know who can. They have fingers in many pies."


It was three long days before Tremothen heard from his cousin's contacts again. At last, they had the information they had travelled many days to hear.

"His name is Randolin," Tremothen placed his comm unit on the table and showed them a picture. "He's a driver for the Taliss family, and he… uh, let's just say he has an expensive hobby. Offer him six thousand credits and he'll bend over backward to help us."

"Have you spoken to him directly?" asked Kikola.

"No. I thought we should do that in person."

"Then take me to him."

Tremothen drove Kikola and Boran in the cruiser's surface vehicle to Taltre. They left the spaceport in glorious sunshine and clear blue skies that belied the near freezing temperatures outside. When it reached the edge of the valley in which the city was nestled, Kikola looked out over the top of a blanket of fog. Only the tops of the taller buildings in the city were visible. As the vehicle descended into the valley, the white mist gradually shrouded the blue sky.

When they reached the city limits, their vehicle joined a slow moving queue of traffic, and a beep from the console indicated that it was now under automatic control of the lead vehicle. Tremothen took his hands off the steering wheel and relaxed.

"Nice weather," he said sarcastically.

Kikola didn't respond to the small talk. She glanced over at Boran who was staring intently out at the fog.

A few minutes later the console indicated that the vehicle in front was about to turn off. Their vehicle slowed and once clear, automatically sped up to join the back of the queue.

Soon it was their turn to leave the main road, and Tremothen took over when the automatic system relinquished control. He followed the navigation computer's directions and eventually brought the vehicle to a halt.

"That's his apartment complex." Tremothen pointed to a barely visible entranceway about five metres away.

Kikola climbed out and strode confidently towards the entrance. The two men followed her.

"Karthen, wait!" Boran called after her.

Kikola stopped and turned around. "What is it?"

"Slow down. Not so… Just walk easy. It'll draw less attention."

"I walk the way I walk. I cannot change that."

"Try. Follow me. Walk at my pace. Try and walk like me." Boran demonstrated a more casual gait.


"Didn't they teach you subtlety in aloyd training?"

"Do you mean injuring to cause pain and not lasting damage?"

"Not quite," the businessman shook his head. "Just follow me. Please." He paused as he moved ahead of her. "Was that a joke? No, never mind."

Kikola smiled to herself, fell into step behind Boran, and slowed her pace to match his.

The building was dilapidated and seedy. The foul odour in the lobby was nauseating, and walls and doors were grimy and in disrepair. They found the lift was out of order so Boran, Kikola, and Tremothen had to climb a narrow staircase to the third floor. Halfway up, they came across someone who had fallen asleep on the stairs. They couldn't tell if the person lived there or had just come in from the cold, and they didn't stop to ask.

Tremothen led the way until they reached Randolin's flat. Boran stepped forward, raised his hand up to knock, but stopped short of actually knocking. The door was smeared with what looked to be some kind of putrid brown substance with mould growing on it. Boran looked concerned about what terrible disease he might catch if he touched it. He eventually located a relatively clean spot and brought the side of his fist down on the door three times.

Sounds of movement were heard behind the door, then a voice called out. "Who is it?"

"A friend," said Boran.

A security device over the door was activated. "Don't recognise you. Go away."

Kikola started to raise her leg to kick in the door.

Boran pushed her knee down. "I said 'subtlety'," he whispered.

He held up a pile of credits to the security camera. "You might recognise this."

There was a lengthy pause before the door slid open. Randolin was a man of average height, but muscular. He filled the gap of the opened door, making it clear that he still didn't trust them. Kikola took notice that Randolin had one hand hidden behind his back. Probably holding a weapon, she surmised.

"Now why would you be flashing that kind of money at my door?" Randolin asked Boran.

"I think that's something we should discuss in private. May we come in?"

Randolin's eyes flicked around at the three of them. "He can wait out here," he nodded at Tremothen.

"That's fine," said Boran.

Randolin relaxed and took half a pace back and opened the door wider, allowing Boran and Kikola to enter his flat. Boran allowed Kikola to enter first. She had barely got past the threshold when Randolin found himself flying backwards. He landed hard two metres from the door, and the IPB he had been hiding behind his back was now in the hand of Kikola and pointed at his forehead.

"Was that any way to treat your guests?" Boran asked Randolin.

"A man has a right to protect himself!"

"We are not here to harm you," he assured Randolin.

Randolin started to get up, but stayed on the floor when Kikola activated the trigger release.

Boran glanced between Randolin, Kikola, and the weapon in her hand. "I said we weren't here to harm him," he pointedly said to Kikola. "That means you can let him up now."

Kikola stepped back and allowed Randolin to rise slowly to his feet.

"Here. One thousand credits – just to show we are all friends." Boran tossed a small pouch of money at Randolin.

The well-built man caught it and stared at it as if it was going to bite him.

"Let's sit down and talk." Boran noted the table with four unmatched chairs in the opposite corner of the flat. "There's more where that came from if you do what we say."

"How—" Randolin croaked. He coughed and started again. "How much more?"

"Another five thousand."

"What do I have to do?"

Boran's smiled widely. "Sit and listen," he said and extended an arm towards a nearby chair.

Kikola watched as Boran sold Randolin on the plan, and she knew they had their inside man.


Kikola, Boran, Marleen, and Tremothen were seated around the table in the dining area, with plates of half-finished food spread out before them. No one had much of an appetite – except for Kamina and Hila. Kamina had taken a couple of plates piled with food back to the cabin she shared with Hila and returned them empty a short while ago.

The plan was set and now all they had to do was wait. They knew Randolin couldn't get Tehvay straight away, but the days crawled agonisingly by and still no word. Anxiousness and uncertainty were beginning to wear on everyone – even Kikola.

"I think we need a plan B," said Marleen. "What are our options?"

"Maybe our aloyd friend can organise an air strike," replied Tremothen.

Kikola glared at him. "I will not attack an Elit household!"

"Didn't you already kill one of them? What's a few more?"

"That was different," Kikola said. "He tried to have me killed, and he hurt Tehvay in the attempt."

"And by keeping her in slavery, they are not hurting her?" Marleen asked testily.

"Not physically," Kikola replied.

"Physical scars heal quickly," said Boran wearily. "Emotional and psychological scars take longer to heal. And the longer Tehvay remains there, the worse it must be for her."

Marleen was still pushing for a Plan B. "So we will give Randolin one more day. If he hasn't contacted us by this time tomorrow then we confront them directly."

"I told you that will not work." Kikola tried not to be too impatient with her.

"I don't care! We have to do something, even if we fail trying." Marleen's frustration was definitely showing.

"You cannot win a battle by making a futile gesture that will result in failure," Kikola countered.

"This is not a battle!" Marleen exclaimed. "This is Tehvay's life!"

"All right, that's enough," Boran said. "Bickering amongst ourselves is not helping the situation. We will give Randolin twelve more hours, and if we haven't heard from him by then, we will come up with a Plan B—"

Tremothen's comm unit suddenly beeped. His face broke into a smile as he read the message. "It's Randolin, he's got Tehvay!" Boran and Kikola didn't wait to hear the details; they raced to be first to the vehicle.



Kikola, Boran, and Marleen raced through the dark Alopan countryside to the appointed meeting place. It was in a remote location, sparsely populated, away from the city, but fairly close to the vast spaceport's outer perimeter. Perfect to get in, get Tehvay, and get out before the Taliss' were aware she was even missing.

Boran drove the cruiser's land vehicle, pushing its speed to the safe maximum for the roads. The vehicle's ionic powered propulsion hardly made a sound and neither did the occupants of the vehicle. They were too pre-occupied with thoughts of seeing Tehvay again.

At last they arrived at the designated coordinates: a neglected farmhouse abandoned some years ago. They looked at each other determinedly, stepped out of the vehicle, and quietly made their way past scattered debris to the front door.

Kikola's heart was pounding. Just a few more moments before she would be reunited with Tehvay and could take her somewhere safe. Kikola was rehearsing the moment over and over in her mind: each time she would open the door, and each time Tehvay would smile and rush into her arms. Reality, however, played out in a way she could never have imagined.

Just as they were about to enter, a loud scream was heard from inside. Kikola immediately reached for her weapon and rushed in ahead of Boran and Marleen. She followed the echoes of the scream to the kitchen in the back of the house. She was totally unprepared for what greeted her.

Tehvay was lying on the floor. A young blonde haired woman, no more than eighteen or nineteen, was kneeling next to Tehvay's body – a knife lay nearby.

And there was blood. Too much blood.

"Tehvay!" Kikola cried. She grabbed the young woman and pushed her away.

"No!" A young female slave dived in front of the young woman trying to protect her.

Kikola positioned herself in front of Tehvay's wounded body and kept her weapon trained on them. "Marleen!"

Marleen didn't need to be called. She was already down on her knees doing a quick check for wounds.

"How bad is it?" asked Kikola.

"She has a deep slice on her arm, but she doesn't seem to be injured anywhere else."

"Good." Kikola was much relieved. She kept one eye on her prisoners and one eye on Marleen, who proceeded to rip the light blue material of Tehvay's trouser leg and use it as a bandage to stem the bleeding and dress the wound.

With Marleen tending to Tehvay, Kikola turned her attention towards the two women huddled together on the floor.

"Now, who are you two and what happened to Tehvay?"

"I am Jenissa Corrina Durell ap Taliss and this is my slave Menari," she replied. "And how do you know my slave?"

"Never mind that now."

Jenissa was about to say something, but stopped, and then the young Taliss said, "I know who you are. You're the one who killed my grandfather. Are you going to kill me like you killed him?"

Before Kikola could reply, a blast rang out. Boran had discharged his IPB in the direction of the door, narrowly missing Randolin's head.

"He was trying to sneak out," Boran announced to all. He took hold of their accomplice and brought him back to the other side of the room.

"Care to explain what happened here?" Boran asked, still keeping his weapon pointed at Randolin.

"Explanations will have to wait." Marleen's voice cut through. "Tehvay needs medical help. I have field dressed the wound, but a main artery was nearly severed. We need to get her to a doctor right now!"

With Boran having his weapon at the ready, Kikola holstered her IPB and turned her full attention to Tehvay. She knelt down. "Tehvay! Can you hear me?"

Tehvay was pale, her eyelids fluttering. She was beginning to lose consciousness. There was no time to lose. Because of her muscular implants, Kikola easily lifted and cradled Tehvay in her arms. She chanced placing a gentle kiss on Tehvay's cheek. "I did not come this far to lose you now," she whispered.

Kikola's academy training kicked in. "Boran, get everyone back to the ship. Marleen, you go with Boran. He will need your help to look after Jenissa and Menari. I will question them all later. I will take the other vehicle and get Tehvay to a medical treatment facility somewhere."

Jenissa climbed to her feet. "I am not going with anyone!" she exclaimed.

Kikola stood up and faced her. "You'll do as I say. I do not have time to argue."

"Exactly, there is no time to argue," Jenissa replied. "I can get Tehvay treated by the best doctors on this planet."

"I don't like this one bit," Boran said to Kikola. "One word from her and you would be arrested, we all would. And we didn't come all this way to leave without Tehvay – or you. It's too risky."

"I give you my word," Jenissa replied. "I will say nothing of this, if you let Menari and me go afterwards."

Kikola did not like yielding control to anyone, let alone to this woman who was little more than a girl, but there was something much more important than her pride and status at risk.

"Fine. Let's go."


As they journeyed to the hospital, Jenissa filled Kikola in on what had happened to Tehvay. "Randolin took us to the farmhouse. He picked up a knife and gave it to Tehvay. I think he meant for it…her…Tehvay to use the knife on me. Instead, Tehvay cut her arm with the knife. Why, I do not know."

Kikola offered no theory to Jenissa, but she could guess. Tehvay had lost hope – lost hope in Kikola coming to her rescue. She could only conclude that Randolin had not informed Tehvay that he was part of the rescue plan. Kikola cursed herself for trusting Tehvay's rescue to anyone else.

When they arrived, the trauma doctors quickly went to work repairing the artery, closing the wound, and giving her plasma. The medics did not query the aloyd when Kikola ordered them to make the scar invisible.

When the treatment was over Kikola, Jenissa, and Menari were permitted to wait in the ward with Tehvay until she regained consciousness. The two Elit women sat in chairs on either side of the bed. Menari stood against the wall, behind her mistress.

The attending doctor finally came in to give them an update. "Your slave will make a full recovery, but I do not know why you bothered. Another few minutes and it would have bled out," the doctor said.

"When can it be released?" Jenissa asked.

He checked the monitor and made a notation in a data pad. "Once it has regained consciousness – within the hour, I should think." With that the doctor left the room.

Jenissa got up and followed him out, which made Kikola a little uneasy, but she was not about to leave Tehvay's side, not even to find out what Jenissa was doing. Kikola felt a sense of relief when Jenissa came back a few minutes later – alone, no security officers.

"I have contacted my family to inform them that my departure had been delayed because of a road detour," said Jenissa. "I did not mention your presence."

"Thank you."

A few minutes passed in silence.

"Why did you kill my grandfather?" Jenissa asked suddenly.

"Your grandfather was the architect of a plot to start a war with the Losper Empire – a plot that included an attempt to have me killed, and in the attempt Tehvay was badly injured."

"I see."

Kikola allowed the Taliss girl time to digest this revelation. Amid the silence, Kikola reached out and brushed Tehvay's hand. The sleeping slave stirred lightly.

"What exactly is the nature of your relationship with Tehvay?"

"Tehvay is very important to me," Kikola began. When Jenissa said nothing, Kikola felt the need to explain further. "I am very fond of Tehvay."

"Are you trying to say that you love Tehvay?"

"Yes, I suppose I am."

"But how can you? It's a slave."

"She is not…" Kikola couldn't finish her retort. Words piled up to be spoken, but she could not decide which ones should be heard.

"Relationships with slaves are not permitted for Elit," Jenissa said.

"Yes, I know," Kikola replied, taking note of Jenissa's backward glance towards her slave, Menari.

"So what do you intend to do?" Jenissa asked.

"Take Tehvay and leave this planet." Kikola added a warning, "and you will not try and stop me."

"No, I won't," Jenissa replied. "But where will you go? There is nowhere in The Hegemony you can go. Nowhere where it would be acceptable for an Elit to love a slave."

There was a tone in Jenissa's voice that took Kikola a moment to place – a sad longing and resignation. Kikola realised that Jenissa was asking for herself as much as she was asking Kikola.

"You can come as well," Kikola offered. "I mean you and Menari."

"With you? I cannot go with you." Jenissa's tone became defensive.

"Yes you can. My friends are helping Tehvay and me establish new identities, start our lives somewhere outside the borders of The Hegemony, somewhere where the two of us can be together. I am certain they can help you start over somewhere else too. Is that not what you want?"

Jenissa stood and paced the floor anxiously. "I am not as brave as you. I have led a sheltered and privileged life. I am not an aloyd with finely honed… aloyd skills. I have not even started my training to be a governor." She held up her arms. "What life would I have beyond The Hegemony – without my family?"

Kikola glanced at Tehvay before replying. "You would have an honest life – a life where you are free to love Menari, and she you."

Jenissa walked over to her slave and lifted her chin so their eyes met. "Menari, what do you think? Do you want to go with them? It means we could be together openly and you would be free, but it means I could never come back to Alopan, never see my family again."

Kikola observed the two young women as though she were watching younger versions of herself and Tehvay. Her heart went out to them both. She knew just how difficult it was to come to terms with the reality of loving someone not deemed acceptable by Elit society. But seeing Tehvay again cemented her commitment to this choice she has made, whatever the price. Tehvay was her life now.

"Only you can make this decision, Jenissa," Menari replied. She took a step towards her mistress. "I only know that I love you, and I want to be with you." She dared to take her mistress' hands in hers. "If it means I have to be your slave, I'll accept that."

Kikola could see the conflict on Jenissa's face: she was strong, but not strong enough.

"Another time," Jenissa said to Menari. "I promise."

Menari sighed. "Another time."

They shared a loving embrace before each returned to their respective places and roles.

Courage comes in many forms , Kikola thought. Who am I to judge? Kikola heard a low groan, drawing her attention to the hospital bed. Tehvay was beginning to regain consciousness.

As she slowly opened her eyes, the injured woman tried to focus on her surroundings. "Where am I?"

As much as she wanted to shout for joy and hug Tehvay, Kikola demonstrated emotional restraint. "You are in hospital on Alopan," Kikola replied.

"We will give you two a few minutes alone," said Jenissa.

Kikola nodded her gratitude. Her eyes followed Jenissa and Menari as they left the ward. When the door closed behind them, Kikola's demeanour softened and she gave Tehvay's unbandaged hand a gentle squeeze.

"Kikola? Is it really you?"

"It is." Kikola smiled.

"I didn't recognise you out of uniform."

"I will explain all that later. As soon as you are able, we can get you discharged. Do you think you feel up to standing?"

"I think so."


Kikola helped Tehvay out of the bed and didn't let go until Tehvay was confident in her ability to steady herself.

"Let's get you dressed and get out of here, shall we?" Kikola looked at the light blue slave's uniform on a nearby table. Kikola retrieved them. "I am afraid you will have to put these on," she said.

Tehvay hesitated and looked confused. "Are you returning me to the Taliss' service?"

"What? No!"

"Then am I to be your slave again?"

"No," Kikola assured her.

"Then what is to happen to me?"

Kikola realised that Tehvay didn't fully comprehend what was happening. She gazed into Tehvay's blue-green eyes and said, "Tehvay, you are not going back to the Taliss' and you are not going to be my slave."

"Then what? I don't understand."

"I have come to take you away," Kikola said.

"Where will we go?" Tehvay asked apprehensively.

"Away from here, for a start. I will explain it all to you when we get back to the ship."

"But what about…" Tehvay looked towards the door.

"Do you mean Jenissa?"


"She won't stop us. She is like us – Jenissa and Menari I mean."

"I thought so. Are they coming with us?"


Tehvay nodded her understanding. She looked down at the dressing on her arm. "I'm sorry. I thought—"

"Hush! It's not your fault. This is entirely my fault. I should have never let you be taken in the first place."

"You had no choice. I understood that. I should have had faith that no matter what, you would come for me. I—"

The door slid open. Kikola moved her hand away and their conversation ceased. Jenissa and Menari came back into the room to give them the news that Kikola had been waiting to hear.

"The doctor has discharged Tehvay," Jenissa said. "You two are now free to return to your friends."

"What are you going to tell your family?" Kikola asked.

"Well, I am not going to lie. I will tell them the truth: that we were detoured off the main road and the driver got lost. We took shelter at an old abandoned farmhouse."

"How are you going to explain Tehvay?"

"If anyone asks, I will say that the slave cut itself with a knife and I brought it for medical treatment."

"What about the hospital records?" Kikola enquired. "They will show that Tehvay was discharged."

"I will merely say that an injured slave was of no use to me, so I had it put down."

Kikola found it a plausible version of the truth. "What are you going to do now?"

"Go to the spaceport and leave for Yun'thul where my training as a governor begins."

"I will take you there." Kikola turned to Tehvay. "Let's get you dressed."

"Menari," said Jenissa.

The slave appeared by Kikola's side. "Your spare uniform," she said to Tehvay and handed her a small bag. "The other is torn and bloody."

"Thank you, Menari."

Menari hesitated for a moment, then leaned in and whispered to Tehvay. Kikola was close enough to hear.

"When you're safe, and no longer need it, burn it."


Boran had to concentrate hard as he guided the cruiser's ground vehicle back to the spaceport. All he could think about was how he reacted to seeing Tehvay lying on the floor with blood pooling around her. As he recalled the scene, he felt ashamed that for a few moments he was utterly unable to move to help Tehvay. Some hero, he thought. Thankfully Boran had snapped out of it when he caught a glimpse of Randolin heading for the door. Boran's instincts took over, and he fired a warning shot over the driver's head. It stopped Randolin in his tracks and got everyone else's attention. At least I got something right , he thought.

Boran looked at the display console and hit the control for the interior camera. He wanted to see if everything was all right in the back seat where Marleen was guarding Randolin. Karthen had told him and Marleen to take Randolin back to the ship and hold him until she got back. I'm not waiting that long for answers.

Boran turned into their assigned hangar, waited for Hila to lower the ramp, and then drove the vehicle into the storage bay on the lower deck. Tremothen greeted him as he got out. Randolin exited the rear of the vehicle, followed by a wary looking Marleen holding an IPB.

"What's going on? Where's Tehvay?" Tremothen asked.

"She was injured," replied Marleen. "Karthen has taken her to hospital."

"Injured? How badly? And how?"

"That's what we're going to find out," said Boran. He grabbed hold of Randolin's arm and started dragging him upstairs to the passenger accommodations with Tremothen and Marleen trailing behind them.

Hila caught up with the group. "What's going on?

"Marleen can explain."

Boran pushed Randolin into a vacant room. "Not so rough," said Randolin. "I'll tell you. She was crazy."

"Do you want help?" asked Hila.

"I'll handle it," Boran told her. "Everyone stay out here."

Boran entered and closed the door behind him. Whatever regret he had felt about not doing more to help Tehvay was now being channelled into getting the truth from Randolin.

"Sit down," he said sternly and gestured at a chair.

Randolin did as he was told and sat down.

Boran remained standing in an imposing stance; he knew how to intimidate people and get the answers he wanted. The muscular driver looked scared, which pleased Boran. He folded his arms and said, "Now tell me everything. What were the Taliss girl and her slave doing there? And, more importantly, what happened to Tehvay?"

"I didn't touch her!" Randolin held up his hands as if in defence. "She cut herself."


"I don't know."

"Where did she get the knife from?"

"I…" Randolin swallowed. "I gave it to her."

"You gave it to her? Why? Why did you give her a knife?"

"I told her… told her…" Randolin looked away.

"Told her what?" Boran was beginning to lose his patience.

"Told her to cut the Taliss girl."

"You what?"

Randolin tried to get up, but Boran didn't budge from his position, which forced Randolin to remain seated.

"I just wanted to scare the bitch. The Taliss girl, I mean."

Boran took a calming breath. He knew the only way to get the whole story was to not allow his emotions to overtake him. "You gave Tehvay a knife to scare the Taliss girl. Then what?"

"She started shouting – your slave – Tehvay. She started shouting, pointing the knife at the Taliss girl, and then…"


"She cut herself. Just slit her wrist."

Boran unfolded his arms and rubbed his temples. "I still don't understand. She knew you were helping us rescue her, so why would she do it? It doesn't make sense."

Randolin looked at him with wide eyes.

Realisation struck Boran. He didn't want to believe it. "You didn't tell her, did you?"

"Not in so many wo—"

"You didn't tell her!" Boran shouted at the top of his lungs.

Randolin flinched. "No."

"You fucking idiot."

"Sorry." Randolin cowered in the chair.

"Don't give me sorry!" Boran clenched his fists and counted to ten. "The Taliss girl and her slave. What were they doing there?"

"I figured I'd get more money if I ransomed her. I knew I would need more than you're paying me to get away, once I'd cleared my debts."

"You really are an idiot! The plan was simple. Ditch whoever was with Tehvay, meet us at the farmhouse, we take you and Tehvay away, and you get the six thousand credits and a new identity. You didn't need to worry about your debts."

Randolin bristled at the admonishment. "Six thousand ain't enough."

"Fine! If Tehvay comes back fit and well, I'll double your payment to twelve thousand."

Randolin's lip curled into a sneer. "It's not like you can't afford it."

Boran repressed the urge to slap the smirk right off the man's face. "Don't push your luck! If you had stuck to the plan, we'd be on our way now. Instead we've got to wait here for Orion knows how long, and there's a member of the Taliss Family with them who knows everything that happened and who we are." Boran headed for the door. He stopped, looked back, and said, "And I don't like that. It puts me in a vulnerable position, and I don't like being vulnerable."


Kikola brought the surface vehicle to a stop at the Taliss' private hangar, where Jenissa's private transport ship was waiting for departure. It was still dark and cold, and the pavement was covered in slush that had frozen over, so Kikola had Tehvay stay in the vehicle rather than chance slipping and falling on her injured arm.

Menari got out without saying a word. Jenissa followed her slave, but before she exited the vehicle, she turned back and said, "Goodbye, Tehvay. I wish you all the best."

"Goodbye, and thank you."

Kikola was standing outside the vehicle waiting to take her leave of Jenissa. She shivered in the cold, because the civilian clothes she wore did not contain the thermal regulator that her uniform possessed.

"Menari, get the bags on board."

"Yes, Ma'am." The young slave girl dutifully did as her mistress instructed and took the bags to the waiting ship.

Observing the two of them just reinforced in Kikola's mind that she was making the right choice for Tehvay and her.

"I offer my thanks for what you have done for Tehvay," Kikola said. "I regret the inconvenience to which you were subjected."

Jenissa replied, "I hope we do not meet again, but I wish you both well in the life you have chosen."

"I wish the same for the two of you, as well."

Before Jenissa turned to go, she paused and said to Kikola, "Oh, and one more thing. Randolin assaulted me. Drugged me with something."

"A sedative," Kikola replied. "He was only supposed to use that as a last resort. You were not meant to be at the house."

"I said he assaulted me." Jenissa gave Kikola a pointed look.

Kikola nodded. "Of course."

"Good," said Jenissa.

Jenissa said no more and walked into the hangar.

Kikola got back into the vehicle and smiled at Tehvay, but Tehvay wore a look of concern.

"What is the matter? Are you in pain?" Kikola asked.

"What did you mean when you said 'of course' to Jenissa?"

"Randolin assaulted her."


"She is Elit," Kikola explained. "The punishment for a Quernal who assaults an Elit is death."

"You're going to execute him for it?"

"It is my duty. Besides, he should have told you I had sent him, then you would not have hurt yourself."


"Tehvay, we can discuss it when we are in the warm." She put an arm around Tehvay and pulled her close. "Let us get back to the ship. Your friends are anxiously awaiting your return."


Tehvay paused before the cruiser's entry hatch. She needed a moment to collect herself. She was feeling both anxious and excited to be reunited with Boran, Marleen, and Tremothen once more. So much had happened in the months since she had last seen them. She worried if they would feel the same about her after all that time.

Tehvay felt Kikola's reassuring hand around her waist.

"Are you ready for this?" Kikola asked.

"I'm not sure…" Tehvay looked down at the slave's uniform she was wearing. "I mean, what if—"

"Trust me, your friends will be very happy to see you – Boran especially. They are not going to care how you are dressed – just that you are here and safe."

Feeling very much relieved Tehvay stepped through the door. When she encountered the group all eagerly waiting to welcome her, Tehvay froze. Everything became blurred. It was almost too overwhelming. But then her eyes were drawn to the man standing at the head of the group. He was wearing a well-worn casual shirt with a strange floral pattern, and she knew it was Boran. She fell into his arms and almost knocked him down. "You came for me!" she cried.

"Oof." He could say no more.

Tehvay then caught sight of Marleen and Tremothen, standing just behind Boran, and they moved in to welcome her home as well. Marleen crushed Tehvay in a tight hug. The older woman was almost in tears. "Oh Tehvay, thank goodness you're all right. You had lost so much blood. I was so worried."

Tremothen waited until his wife let Tehvay go, and then he offered her a gentle hug. "It's good to see you, kid."

"You too, Tremothen."

Tehvay felt Boran's arm around her shoulder.

"Let's get you up to the lounge. It's more comfortable there."

He guided her to the stairway. All apprehension she had felt outside had gone. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but she didn't care. She was safe. She was with friends. She was with Kikola.

Kikola! Tehvay felt a moment of panic until she turned and saw Kikola's smiling face a couple of steps behind, and then she breathed easier.

They arrived at the lounge, and two women Tehvay didn't recognise were seated in the corner.

One of them, young, with long dark hair approached Tehvay and held out her hand. "Hi, Tehvay. I'm Kamina."

Tehvay gave the young woman's hand a shake. "Hi, um Kamina."

Kamina pointed to the other woman, who was now leaning against the wall, trying to ignore everyone else. "And that's Hila."

Tehvay gazed over at the dark-haired woman. She looked vaguely familiar to Tehvay; she assumed she had seen her around Boran's estate.

"We've been looking for you for ages!" Kamina exclaimed, and gave Tehvay a spontaneous hug.

"Thank you," said Tehvay. She waited for the young woman to release her as Boran offered her an explanation.

"Kamina and Hila are…" Boran appeared overwhelmed and lost the thread of his thoughts. "Uh… I hired them to help me look for you." Boran took Tehvay's good arm and led her to a chair. "But that's not important right now. Come sit down. Do you want a drink or something to eat?"

"No, I'm okay," said Tehvay as she sat down at the table.

Boran and the others took seats around her, apart from Hila and Kamina who headed to the cockpit to do their pre-flight checks. Kikola stood behind Tehvay, allowing the others their time with Tehvay.

"How long have you been looking for me?"

"Ever since your trial," said Boran.

"I should've been with you," said Marleen.

"I knew the risks," Tehvay replied.

"We've been following you and Kikola all around The Hegemony ever since," Boran said, "but we were always one step behind."

"How did you finally track me down then?"

Boran glanced at Kikola. "Kikola came to me looking for help in rescuing you."

"I needed to tell her about you," said Tehvay.

"I'm glad you told her, otherwise… I don't want to go there. You're back, that's all that matters."

"No thanks to Randolin," Kikola said. "Where is he?"

"He's in a cabin," Boran replied.

"Did he tell you anything?"

"He told me everything that happened."

"Did he tell you that he gave Tehvay the knife? Did he tell you that he did not tell Tehvay we had sent him, that she was safe?"

Boran nodded.

"Where is he? I am going to kill him." Kikola started to leave.

"Kikola, no!" Tehvay called out.

"Kikola, wait!" Boran got to his feet and stood in her way.

Kikola stopped.

"He's already dead," said Boran.

"Dead?" Kikola and Tehvay queried together.

Boran looked down at his feet. "Yes."

"I said I would take care of him when I got back," Kikola said sharply.

Boran's head snapped up and he met Kikola's harsh gaze. "Do you think I would do nothing when he told me what he had done?" Boran replied. "Besides, he was too much of a risk."

A sombre mood fell over the festivities, and Tehvay confessed she was not feeling that well. It might have been the shock of hearing about Randolin's demise, or that the pain suppressant was wearing off and her arm was hurting. Either way, the party was over.

"I think I had better get Tehvay to her cabin," Kikola announced. "She's had a very long day and she needs to get some rest." Kikola looked at Boran. "And as far away from Alopan as possible."

Boran agreed. "Yes, let's get you somewhere safe." He called up to the cockpit and spoke to Hila. "Plot the fastest course to Shibato." There was a faint rumble as the ship lifted off. Boran leaned towards Kikola and whispered, "We'll dump Randolin's body out of an airlock along the way."


Kikola and Tehvay left the others in the lounge. Kikola ushered Tehvay through the ship to the Tehvay's cabin. It was a large suite of rooms, made to offer Boran's guests comfort and luxury.

"I like this suite," said Tehvay. "I thought I'd never see it again."

"You've been on this ship before?"

"Yes, Boran took me on a few trips."

I forget sometimes that the freedom Tehvay had before I met her was true freedom. Not the limited freedom that I have allowed her. Kikola thought.

"Well, I will leave you to get some rest," said Kikola. "I will see you in the morning."

"Are you not staying with me?" asked Tehvay anxiously.

"I did not want to presume."


When she saw the disappointment on Tehvay's face, Kikola hastened to try and explain. "I thought… I mean I was not certain… That is…" Kikola gazed down at a spot on the bed covers, struggling to explain that there was a nagging kernel of doubt as to whether Tehvay's feelings for her had survived their separation.

"Kikola, what are you trying so hard not to tell me?"

Kikola realised she was making matters worse for Tehvay. "We have a few things to talk over," Kikola replied, "but not tonight. You have been through a very trying ordeal. You need to get some rest."

"I won't be able to rest easy until we do talk."

"All right, but first we must get you out of those clothes," Kikola said.

Kikola helped Tehvay undress and get settled into bed, and then she sat down on the edge, careful not to bump Tehvay's injured right arm.

"Tehvay, let me start off by saying again how truly sorry I am for allowing them to take you from me and give you to the Taliss Family."

"There is no need to apologise again, Kikola," Tehvay said. "I know you had no choice, but none of that matters now that we're together. We are together, right?"

"Yes! I mean, if that is what you want," Kikola replied.

"Is it what you want?"

"More than anything."

"Good. It's what I want too." Tehvay paused. "Just so I am clear and there is no mistaking, what exactly will I be to you?"

"I know what I hope you will be to me," Kikola replied, "but that is entirely up to you."

Tehvay didn't immediately answer.


"I'm sorry, I was trying to sort out what you were asking me. I don't want to misinterpret your meaning."

Kikola knew that this was not the time to fumble her words. "Tehvay, I love you and I want us to be together, to be everything to each other."

Tehvay tried to raise her arm to hug Kikola, but winced a little in the attempt.

"Okay, that does it. I need to leave so you can get some sleep." Kikola got up off the bed. "We can continue this conversation in the morning."

"No, don't leave!" Tehvay exclaimed. "I will never get any sleep if you leave now."

"All right, I will stay," replied Kikola.

Tehvay repositioned herself so she was sitting up against the headboard. She gazed intently at Kikola and said, "So what happens now? Are we going to be like Jenissa and Menari: continue to be slave and—"


Tehvay was taken aback by the force of Kikola's response.

"I told you at the hospital that you would not be my slave," said Kikola gently. "We will leave The Hegemony."

"What about your career?"

"I have been absent without leave from duty for too long now. The Council will be looking for me. We must leave The Hegemony as soon as possible. Boran is going to arrange new identities for us."

Tehvay's head dropped.

"We will be leaving here and going somewhere where we… you… me, where I can be your equal. Somewhere we do not have to hide our feelings for each other."

"That's wonderful," said Tehvay. She forced a smile.

"You don't want to leave."

"I want to be with you. If you have to leave The Hegemony, then I'll go with you. It's just that, I've just been reunited with Boran and the others, and now we have to leave. I will miss them."

"I understand; they are your family. I will miss mine." An icy hand formed a fist and punched Kikola in the stomach. The thought of not seeing her family again was unbearable. Family for the Elit was everything: All had an estate that was a permanent home to an extended family and that all who shared the name could call home. Kikola had been apart from her family at the Academy, but could get home within a few hours at the weekend and term breaks, which she had done often. But this parting would be final.

"Oh Kikola, I hadn't realised until now just what you are giving up for me. I can't ask you to do that – to give up your family, your career – the life of an Elit."

"No! You can ask anything. If I can do what you ask, I will do it. My career is over anyway, and though I will miss my mother, that doesn't matter because you are my family now. And as for no longer being Elit… I am better than Elit now. I am yours."


Tehvay was awake early, too early to disturb Kikola who was curled up on her side contentedly sleeping. She considered just staying in bed and watching the woman she loved sleep, but she was feeling quite hungry. So she slipped out of bed, got dressed – Marleen had the foresight to bring her some of her old clothes so she didn't have to wear the slave uniform – and went to find something to eat.

She made her way to the dining room, where she helped herself to some juice and then wandered over to the food dispenser to check the menu.

"Where's Kikola?"

The voice made her jump slightly. She smiled at Boran who was seated at the table on the other side of the room. "Sleeping. Do you want breakfast?" She turned back to the machine and punched a button.

"Not yet. I was hoping I'd get a chance to speak to you. Alone. Do you have time now?"

"Sure." Tehvay grabbed her tray and headed for the table. She sat down across from Boran, who had sombre look on his face. "What's wrong?"

"I wanted to talk to you about Kikola."

"Okay, sure. You don't mind if I eat while we talk, do you? I'm starving."

"No, go right ahead."

"So what about Kikola?"

"She says the two of you are in love," Boran replied. "Is that true?"

That was one of things Tehvay liked so much about Boran; he was direct. "Yes," she replied. It was the last thing I ever expected, but then Kikola was not like anyone I had ever met. She didn't treat me like a slave. At least not like my other owners treated me."

"Maybe you're just confusing love with gratitude," said Boran.

"No!" Tehvay replied. "My feelings for Kikola are real. I… I feel them." She patted the area over her heart. "Kikola feels them too." Tehvay's eyes glanced away. "Whether it's truly love, I don't know," she confessed. "This is the first time I've felt it." She looked Boran straight in the eye. "This is not like the love and gratitude I have for you. All I do know is that I'd rather die if Kikola is not part of my life."

"Okay! I believe you. I just wanted to be sure. I just want you to be safe and happy."

"I'm happy with Kikola and she can protect me."

"Can she? She let you be taken by the Taliss."

"Kikola didn't 'let' me be taken; she had no choice. If she had refused, then she would have been put into prison or worse, and I would've still been turned over to the Taliss Family."

Boran seemed still unconvinced. "I remember how long it took you to adjust to freedom, how long it took for you to be able to think and make decisions for yourself. Going back to slavery must have felt like normality again. Perhaps your judgement is clouded."

"No. I only started feeling like a slave again when I was on Alopan. When I was with Kikola I felt ashamed and humiliated whenever I acted like a slave."

"Did she—"

"No! I said when I acted like a slave, Kikola didn't treat me like one."

"I know this is personal, but I have to ask. Have you two been, you know, intimate?"

"No, not yet. Kikola has always been good in that way. She has never pressured me or forced me to do anything – even when I offered."

"Offered!" Boran's eyes widened. "Oh, you mean like… when…"

"Yes," said Tehvay, helping Boran, and herself, avoid any further embarrassment.

"So, how do you feel about it?"

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, after all you have been through, you deserve to have love in your life. But I don't want you to be hurt. I know how long it took you to trust. I would hate to see all the progress you have made in overcoming the psychological scars of past abuse be undone by someone who is only playing games."

Tehvay put down her utensil and patted Boran's hand. She was grateful for his fatherly concern, but she was quick to allay his fears. "That is not going to happen. Kikola could have just taken what she wanted at any time, but she didn't. She hasn't. She won't." Tehvay moved her hand away and looked at him earnestly. "Kikola truly loves me. She is giving up everything to be with me – her career, her family, her position in society – everything."

Boran still looked sceptical. "I know that's what she says now, but how do you know she won't just dump you as soon as she tires of the hardship?"

"Because I know Kikola. She said she won't, and she doesn't li—"

"Yeah, I know 'Elit don't lie'," he said with a chuckle.

Tehvay tilted her head. "Huh?"

"An inside joke, never mind."

"I trust Kikola," Tehvay assured him. "Just as I trust you."

"Then I guess that's good enough for me," said Boran.


Shibato was the same as when they had left, hot and dry. Kikola and Tehvay were spending nearly every waking and non-waking hour together. Boran was organising new identities and a ship for them to leave. For Hila and Kamina, a few days alone at the guest cottage helped them to unwind, but now they were getting restless. Boran had put their fee for rescuing Tehvay into an account, plus a generous bonus. There was nothing stopping them from leaving Shibato, yet Hila insisted they linger despite having no work to keep them there. After a week, Kamina was getting bored and pestering Hila to leave. For Hila, however, there was unfinished business of a very personal nature.

Hila scouted around Boran's estate for a suitable location – a place where security cameras would not record her activity. This was difficult, because Boran's estate employed the best security systems on the market, but not impossible. She discovered a shaded cloister with tall shrubs blocking the view from the rest of the courtyard. Hila waited, lurking in the shadows until her quarry showed itself.

She thought that it was her lucky day, but Hila's mistake was to be subtle. Walking around Boran's estate with an IPB would be suspicious, so she chose a knife that she could easily conceal. Her hand settled around the handle; it was damp with sweat and her heart pounded.

As Karthen passed by, Hila struck.

The aloyd cursed and she jumped away from Hila.

Hila lunged again, only this time Karthen was prepared. The aloyd dodged, her hand clamped down on Hila's wrist and the freighter captain cried out in pain, the knife clattered to the floor. The cry was cut off as the air rushed out of her body when she crashed to the floor and the full weight of the aloyd landed on top of her.

Hila looked up into hard brown eyes glaring down at her.

"Why did you do that?" asked Karthen through gritted teeth.

Hila tried to struggle but it was pointless. She slumped and closed her eyes. "Just kill me," she sighed.

"Not until you tell me why?"

"Just do it. You killed me fifteen years ago, once more won't make any difference."

"I don't understand. How could I have killed you fifteen years ago?"

"My name is not 'Hila Llyte'. I am Gral'hilanth Lintana ap Falentha," said Hila.

"Oh!" Karthen's face softened in recognition.

It wasn't the face that Hila remembered from their first meeting.

Gral'hilanth stood in line with the five other Academy trainees. They were arranged in age order with Gral'hilanth, the youngest at seventeen, at the far right. Standing against the walls were five of the Academy instructors and sitting behind the only desk in the room was Toman ap Karthen, the Council member overseeing the Academy. Standing just behind and to the right of Toman was a small dark haired girl that Gral'hilanth did not recognise.

The end of year review was a mere formality, but they had to go through it all the same. Each student was called forward, and Toman announced their successful transition into the new academic year. "Gral'hilanth Lintana ap Falentha," Toman called.

She stepped forward and stood up straight.

"Your final exercise of the year…" he tailed off.

The pause caused an uneasy feeling in her stomach. She saw the girl lean forward and whisper in Toman's ear.

"This is my niece, Kikola Mariantha Jacand ap Karthen. It is thanks to her that certain facts have come to light."

The girl stepped out from behind her uncle and approached Gral'hilanth. She looked about ten, Gral'hilanth guessed; if she was older then she was a little small for her age. She stood in front of Gral'hilanth and looked up into her face.

"Your final exercise," said Kikola, "was a failure."

Murmurs started flying around the room.

"What are you talking about?" asked Gral'hilanth.

Toman cleared his throat. "You were sent to an address in Polen City on the moon of Yerhulin. The object of the exercise was to execute all members of the household."

"Which I did."

"Did not!" shouted Kikola. "You claimed to kill three members of the family and three bodies were reported found. However, news reports state that a fourth member, the youngest daughter, is missing."

"Shut up, you little brat!"

"And the household slave was still alive in its cell."

"I said, shut up!" Gral'hilanth struck out and caught the girl across the cheek.

All rumblings in the room ceased.

Gral'hilanth expected Kikola to burst into tears and run back to her uncle, but even though a single tear ran down the reddening cheek, there was only steely resolve on the young girl's face. Kikola pushed out with both hands catching Gral'hilanth in the chest and forcing her to take a step back. She stumbled and fell on her backside. This caused a few giggles from her fellow students.

Gral'hilanth climbed to her feet ready to pummel Kikola's arrogant little face into the floor when a couple of instructors intervened.

"Stop it!" commanded Toman. "Gral'hilanth, you will return to your dormitory, and pack your belongings. You are being expelled and will be sent home. This Academy has one purpose and one purpose only. That is to produce the best military leaders: leaders who have to give orders and expect them to be obeyed, and leaders who have to take orders and obey them. If you cannot perform a simple task, like the one to which you were assigned, and then have the audacity to lie about it in your report, then you have no business being in this place. This is unprecedented. You have brought shame on yourself, shame on the Academy, and most importantly, shame on your family."

"What? I cannot be the first to have failed an assignment! And you are throwing me out because of it?"

"No, you're not the first to fail an assignment. But others have not tried to hide their failure. They have admitted it and learnt from it."

Gral'hilanth started to panic. She was not going to be humiliated like this in front of the Academy. And certainly not be humiliated by a snot-nosed little girl.

"All right. I admit it. I did not kill everyone."

"Too late. The falsehood has been committed. It's in your report, and you verbally confirmed it here in this room. There is no more chance to rectify the situation."

"But, what am I… I am meant to be an aloyd – to serve The Hegemony. What will happen?"

"I don't know. A Council meeting will be convened to discuss your fate. Your father is coming to collect you." Toman turned to address one of the instructors. "Escort her to her dormitory."

The world ended for Gral'hilanth. She looked around the room at the array of expressions on the faces of those present. Amusement, anger, disappointment, astonishment, but the one expression that burned itself into her brain was the look of smug accomplishment and satisfaction on the face of Kikola. Her whole life so far had been preparation for her to take her place as a military leader, and now it was ripped from her grasp. She could not bear the shame and humiliation, but she vowed, however long it took, to regain her position and get revenge on Kikola Mariantha Jacand ap Karthen.

"I didn't recognise you," Karthen said softly.

"I changed my appearance. I couldn't stand looking at the face that brought such shame to my family."

Karthen stood up slowly. "I am sorry. I did what I did for the good of The Hegemony. It wasn't personal."

"Oh, then that makes everything okay," said Hila sarcastically.

"No it doesn't, but you cannot punish me for your failing."

"I'm not punishing you for my failing, I'm punishing you for ruining my life!"

"Ruining your life? You have freedom. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Kamina loves you. What more do you want? What more could anyone want? I didn't ruin your life; I saved it. I gave you a life you never would have had."

"But it's not the life I wanted," growled Hila.

"You are not unique in that respect. Whatever life you want is not my concern; if you don't like it, do something about it. You have my gratitude for helping rescue Tehvay, but come after me again, and I will kill you."

Hila glared in contempt and vengeance, but said nothing.

Karthen grimaced and clutched at the wound in her side. "I need to get this treated. I give you my word that I will not say how it happened."

"Don't do me any favours," Hila called after Karthen as she walked away.

Hila knew that taking on Karthen, one-on-one, right now was pointless. She needed help, and she had an idea where to get it.

Hila found Kamina lounging by the pool.

"Kami, we're going!"

"Going? When?"


"Where are we going?"




The produce market in the old district of Dansek City was teeming with crowds and full of aromas that no food-dispensing appliance could ever replicate. That's why Rikana Lardis liked to go there on her day off. Her ancestors had been farmers, or that is what she remembered from stories her father had told her when she was a little girl. Her family made the trek to Dansek City to shop at this market every month until she was about fifteen years old. That was when slave raiders came to Trengos and killed her parents. Coming to the produce market was a way for Rikana to honour her parents' memory and to somehow still feel connected to them.

Rikana squeezed the namida fruit and brought it up to her nose. It felt good, the pale blue, teardrop-shaped fruit had a firm skin, but the smell said it was about to turn. She put it back down and tried another. That one was too soft. She tried another. From the corner of her eye she saw a hand grab one of the fruit she had discarded and heard a voice ask the stall owner "How much?"

"That one's no good. Try this one. It's much—" Rikana stopped talking and did a double take that was almost comical as she looked at the short blonde hair of the woman standing next to her.

"What's with the hair?" She looked the woman up and down. The green skirt and blouse were flecked with gold, and even though the outfit was loose fitting, it didn't disguise the athletic figure underneath. "And the clothes?"

"What?" asked the blonde haired woman.

"The hair? When did you get it cut?"

"I don't understand. Maybe you've got me confused with someone else."

"And the voice! What's with the accent?"

"Is there a problem?" A dark haired woman, who was slightly smaller in stature but formidable in comportment, joined them and glared at Rikana.

Rikana's first instinct was to pull her weapon and tell her to take a walk. But the first woman spoke to her.

"It's okay. She thought I was someone else."

Okay, they know each other, thought Rikana. I must be mistaken, but…

"Yeah, sorry," said Rikana. "Mistaken identity. Speaking of which." She reached into her pocket and brought out an id card. "Dansek Security," she announced. "May I see your IDs?"

"No," said the second woman. "We have committed no crime, therefore you have no right." She pulled the blonde haired woman by the arm, and they moved off into the crowd.

"Stupid rights," muttered Rikana under her breath and pulled out her comm unit.


Yuniph Veilan squeezed the namida fruit and brought it up to her nose, just like Rikana had taught her to do. Satisfied it was still fresh, she put the fruit into a carton and sealed it. She heard the footsteps behind her, turned around, and held the carton out. "Here you go, Mother – lunch."

Asta tucked the lunch carton into her bag. "Thank you, Yuniph. You're such a good girl." She cupped her daughter's cheek, and then stroked the long blonde hair. "You have such long, beautiful hair. It reminds me of my hair when I was your age."

Yuniph reached out and stroked her mother's hair, which was cut at neck length. The honey blonde hair was peppered with a few grey strands, but from a distance one couldn't tell. "You could let yours grow long," Yuniph suggested.

Her mother forced a smile. "Too much effort to look after. Besides, it was how… my owner liked it."

Even after all this time Yuniph could tell how much it hurt her mother to mention the past, so Yuniph changed the subject. "I can give you a lift to work, if you like."

"No, it's your day off," Asta replied. "Besides, I've got plenty of time until my shift starts. Would you like a cup of tea?" Yuniph's mother asked.

"Sure!" Yuniph replied.

Asta went to the food dispenser and punched in a code. When the tea was done, she brought two steaming cups to the table. "What are your plans for your day?"

"I—" The beeping of her comm unit interrupted her. "Sorry." Yuniph stepped out into the hallway as she answered. "Hi, Rikana."

"Hey, Veilan, where are you?"

"At home. It's my day off, remember?"

"Yeah, I know. It's just that there's some woman walking around the market with your face."

"What? My face?"

"Yeah, dead spit, except she had short hair." Rikana paused. "And better fashion sense," she added.

"Thanks," said Yuniph dryly.

"No problem," Rikana replied. "So what do you want to do about it?"

"About what?"

"The woman with your face."

"It's not a crime is it?"

"Not exactly, but looking like a member of the Dansek Security could be a bonus if you want to get up to no good."

"Well, if she commits a crime, you'll know it wasn't me." Yuniph poked her head into the kitchen and signalled to her mother that she'd be right there. "Look I've got to go. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye."

Yuniph closed the comm unit and put it back into the pocket of her skirt. She returned to the kitchen table where her mother was sipping her tea.

"Where were we before we were interrupted?" Yuniph asked.

"I was asking you what are you doing today?"

Yuniph drank her tea. "No plans. I'll probably lend father a hand in the garden."

"He won't like that. You know that's his domain."

"Mother, it's only you he's banned from helping in the garden."

"That was years ago! They looked like dead leaves to me!"

Yuniph laughed. "I'll try not to help him too much."

Asta finished the last sip of tea and stood. "Well, I should be off. Those plasma components aren't going to inspect themselves." She hefted her bag to her shoulder still muttering about dead leaves. "When's your next day off? We should go out for the day somewhere. All three of us, I mean."

"Pick a date and I'll make sure I'm off," Yuniph replied.

"I'll speak to my manager," said Asta. She gave Yuniph a kiss on the cheek and headed out the door of their small semi-detached house.

Yuniph finished the last of her tea and ventured into the garden. There she found her father, Pallin, reclining on a lounger soaking up the morning sunshine from Trengos' twin suns and reading the news.

"Need any help?" she asked, taking a seat on the edge of the lounger next to him.

"I can read it just fine," he winked at her.

"I meant with gardening." Yuniph smiled at the lanky man, whose feet dangled over the edge of the lounger.

"Sure!" he replied. Yuniph's father was a gardener by trade and gardening was his hobby as well. High summer in Dansek, when the suns were at their greatest separation, was not a time to spend toiling too long outdoors, consequently Pallin took the opportunity to have time away from tending other people's gardens to enjoy his own.

A beep from his reader attracted his attention. "Damn! Raiders just hit Salnadar!"

Salnadar was a small settlement on the other side of Trengos, nowhere near Dansek, but any raid on the planet or even in nearby systems was news they all dreaded.

"Casualties?" asked Yuniph. She took a seat next to her father.

"Too early to say precisely, but the report is—" another beep signalling an update sounded. Pallin scanned it quickly. "Twelve dead, twenty-two unaccounted for."

The words 'unaccounted for' had an ominous meaning. It meant those missing were heading to The Hegemony and a life of slavery. Yuniph knew her parents had been slaves before she was born, but they were very fortunate in that they had been granted freedom. A precious gift that very few slaves are ever granted. She could see her father was visibly troubled by the story.

Yuniph placed a comforting hand on his arm. "It's a tragedy, I know, but we're safe here. Dansek City is too big for them to hit," she said.

"It's too big for slave raiders, but not The Hegemony. It says here that they recently seized Otopa from the Losper Empire. Trengos is too close to their border and independent. How long before they decide to invade?"

"Don't worry yourself."

"But I do worry." Pallin looked at his daughter earnestly. "Invasion by The Hegemony is a real threat, and Trengos has no worldwide co-ordinated government or planetary defences. If the invasion came, The Hegemony would probably not have to fire a shot. They would just land and claim the planet. And, it won't be twenty-two new slaves for them, it'll be twenty-two million."

"I'm sure Trengos isn't of any strategic interest to The Hegemony," Yuniph replied. "Besides, a newly conquered planet would be useless without a population; surely The Hegemony wouldn't take them all as slaves."

"Even one person, taken as a slave, is one too many," Pallin said.

"We could flee," said Yuniph. "But that would mean they've already beaten us. No, we can only stay and fight them when, or if, they come."

"That's my girl."

They spent the rest of the morning tending a few of the flower beds and the vegetable patch, but mostly just relaxing and enjoying their time together. The first sun was just reaching its zenith and the garden had lost any shade that it had earlier on.

"Father, we really should be going inside now. You know what Mother would say if she knew I allowed you to stay outside in this heat."

"Yes, yes. I just want to tie off this double-neck squash."

Yuniph was just about to insist that he leave it and come inside when a head appeared on the other side of the tall fence that separated the garden from the road.

"Hello, Rikana," called Yuniph's father.

"Hey, Mr V.," Rikana said, returning his greeting as she climbed over the fence. She trotted over to Yuniph and Pallin, and lightly punched Yuniph on the arm. "Thought I'd pop round."

"Did you," Yuniph said, eying her partner suspiciously. Everything about Rikana was everything that Yuniph innately disliked: she was too loud, too familiar, too uncouth – just like her taste in clothing. Rikana showed up dressed like a teenager in a loose fitting jacket, knee length leggings and a skirt cut from right thigh to left ankle, made in a light fabric that shimmered all colours as the light caught it. Though to be fair, Rikana was not far out of her teens at twenty-one, a whole seven years younger than Yuniph. Despite all of that, Yuniph actually liked Rikana – most of the time.

"What have I told you about climbing over the fence?" asked Pallin.

"That I should do it," she replied innocently.

She dipped her head and looked up at Yuniph's father, a little smile curling the corner of her mouth. It was a look no father could resist. He chuckled and patted her shoulder.

"Sorry, Mr V. I won't do it next time."

"We were just about to go inside and get a drink, maybe a bite to eat. Care to join us?" Pallin asked.

"Sure, Mr V. That's very kind of you."

He ushered the two young women inside and prepared a light meal for the three of them.

"Thanks," Yuniph said to her father as he placed the drinks and food on the table.

"Cheers, Mr V." Rikana took a sip of her drink.

"You've not come to take my Yuni away on her day off have you?" asked Pallin.

"Err, no. Well, maybe. I'm not sure. It's not work. Maybe. Yet."

"You're trying to confuse me with all that street slang you kids talk," said Pallin. "Well, I watch the daily dramas when I can and I understand it perfectly."

Yuniph gave Rikana a stern look not to say anything more.

"I'll leave you two to talk. I've got some things to do upstairs," said Pallin. He put his food and drink on a tray and wandered out of the kitchen.

"You didn't come all the way across town on your day off just to 'pop round'," Yuniph observed. "Is this about the woman who you said looks like me?"

Rikana got very animated. "Not just looks like you. It's like you've been cloned – only with short hair and better fashion sense."

Yuniph took a bite of the sandwich her father had prepared for her. "Last time I looked, it wasn't a crime to resemble another person."

"Didn't you hear what I said? She didn't just resemble you, she was you." Rikana paused. "Except with shor—"

"'—short hair and better fashion sense'," mimicked Yuniph.

Rikana cackled with laughter.

"It's still not a crime," said Yuniph.

"No, but you must have heard about the raid on Salnadar."

"Yes," Yuniph replied. "What about it?"

"The woman who looked like you, and her friend – it suddenly struck me..." Rikana paused and took another sip of her drink.

"What struck you?" asked Yuniph.

"Their accents. Heggers!"

Yuniph allowed the derogatory term to pass without comment. "There are plenty of Hegemony accents on this planet."

"Not that many. None I've heard in Dansek for ages."

"You need to hang out at the spaceport more," Yuniph said.

"They didn't look like traders or spacers," Rikana replied. "Besides, the dark-haired friend of your clone…guess what?"

"No idea, what?"

"She didn't have a normal Hegger accent."

Sometimes pulling facts out of Rikana in a conversation was like pulling strang-grass out of a flowerbed.

"Then what was it?" Yuniph managed to keep the sigh out of her voice.


"What?" Yuniph was surprised.

"Elit! I'm sure. Never heard one in real life, but it sounded a lot like the accent actors use when they play Elit in vid dramas."

"Okay, so they may or may not have Hegemony accents and one may or may not have an Elit accent. What has that got to do with the raid?"

"Stop being dense, Veilan. Who do you think is behind the raids? We all know that the raiders take slaves to the Heggers. They could be here scouting for potential targets."

"You know I'm no big fan of The Hegemony, but I'm sure they're not going to be sending members of the ruling families here to scout for slaves. Besides, the raids happened at Salnadar – nowhere near here."

"Sure, we all hear the official denials that the slavers are not sanctioned by The Hegemony and that illegal slave trading is against their law. But I buy that as much as I buy Oelian spice cakes." Rikana rolled her eyes.

"There are many Hegemony refugees here with Hegemony accents that came here because they're opposed to what their government is doing – my parents, for example," Yuniph reminded Rikana.

"Hey, no one thinks more of your parents than me… except you… and maybe four or five others, but this is different."

"Rikana, until these women do anything illegal, we must assume they are innocent and treat them without suspicion."

"You're so tight, Veilan. I knew you'd say that."

"Then why did you come here?"

"Because, whether I like it or not, we're partners. We fight crime together. I just thought that you'd want to tackle something bigger than petty theft and missing cats."

"The small stuff is just as important as the big stuff."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'd be heartbroken if my cat got stolen – if I had a cat – and all that. But think, Veilan, it's our duty to investigate and stop something potentially this big before it occurs. Raids are happening more often. The raiders are getting bolder and hitting closer to bigger population centres. We need to act. If these women turn out to be innocent, then I'm all for not arresting them – Hegger Elit or not."

For all of Rikana's prejudice, Yuniph conceded she might have a point. "We need to clear it with Command before we do anything."

"Fine, sure."

"And we wait until tomorrow."

"Time is crucial. If there's a chance, however slim, that they're here for slaves, or perhaps they are even spies, then time is of the essence."

"I'm sure The Hegemony can find spies without give away accents for their top secret missions," Yuniph replied.

"If the Heggers know someone with a give away accent won't be suspected of being a spy," said Rikana, "that's what they'll use. They're clever bastards. Mostly just bastards, though."

Yuniph felt she was caught in the middle of something from which she was not going to escape. "Fine," she said. "I'll just get changed. You should, too."


"Uniforms. If we're going to Command with this, then we'll be on duty. We wear our uniforms when on duty."

"Right, I'll go home and change," Rikana reluctantly agreed. "See you there."


Rikana and Yuniph, both dressed in their uniforms, were cooling their heels in the waiting room of the station commander's office. It was located on the top floor of the Dansek Security central command centre. They had been told to wait while their superior officer considered Rikana's suspicions about the two foreign women she had met earlier that morning.

They had been waiting for more than an hour. Yuniph stood up and started pacing. Rikana knew the waiting was making her partner edgy. Yuniph had made it known, in their meeting with the commander, that she did not share Rikana's suspicions.

Rikana scrutinised her partner as she paced and thought how well Yuniph suited the uniform. The dark blue fabric was a good contrast to her pale skin and blonde hair. She just wished Yuniph would wear it a little looser, less buttoned up. She felt her own light brown skin didn't suit the colour as well. She had tried brightening it up once with a pink scarf, but Yuniph and her superiors had put a quick stop to that.

Yuniph abruptly stopped. "This is silly. I should never have agreed to this."

"Quit griping."

Finally the office door opened and they were called in.

Their commanding officer, Commander Simeal, a short man with a bald head and seemingly no neck, sat at his desk. "Given the lack of any hard evidence, I'm loathe to give the go ahead," he said. "However, after the raid in Salnadar, I will allow you to bring these women in for questioning as 'persons of interest'."

"But Sir," said Yuniph. "Section 2, chapter 7, sub-paragraph 12 clearly states that we can't bring them in without a valid reason."

"I've just given you one, Veilan."

"Yes, Sir. What I mean, Sir, is that we should check them out, yes. But it doesn't have to be done here, or under caution."

"Yeah!" Rikana jumped in. "We should take them somewhere remote. Somewhere where we won't be seen and they won't be heard."

"That's not what I meant," Yuniph replied.

"Oh." Rikana was disappointed

"If," Yuniph continued, "and I can't believe I'm saying this, Officer Lardis is right, then they might already know we suspect them, which might be enough for them to leave before they do anything."

"If Officer Lardis is correct then we don't want them to get away," said Simeal. "We want them in custody and held as a warning to The Hegemony that we won't be messed with."

"But that might only provoke them more," explained Yuniph.

"They don't care whether we provoke them or not if they want to raid us," the commander replied. "At least this way we take a couple of them down first."

"Yes, Sir!" Rikana beamed.

"Find them first, then call for back up and we'll bring them in." He looked Rikana. "Though I like your idea of somewhere remote, Lardis."

"Thank you, Sir!"


According to the spaceport manifests, their names, allegedly, were Tehvay Bastin and Kikola Trellon. They had arrived at the Dansek spaceport in a run-down freighter three days ago. Customs said the ship was carrying no goods and the women said they were here to look for business.

Yuniph and Rikana had set up surveillance in a spaceport lounge overlooking the docking bay where the suspects' ship was docked. The lounge wasn't very clean, though it did smell of cleaning fluid, as though an attempt to remove some of the grime had been made.

Rikana was laying on her back on a couch, watching some vid on her comm unit, while munching on something unhealthy that she had bought from a nearby vendor. Yuniph sat by the window watching the ship.

Yuniph stood up and stretched. "Your turn."

"Five more minutes. This is almost finished."

"I need the toilet. Now."

Rikana cursed and climbed off the couch.

As Yuniph headed for the door, Rikana called out, "Get me another one of these." She waved the remnants of her food in Yuniph's direction. "Wash your hands first!"

Yuniph ignored her partner's dig at her fastidious nature, which Rikana didn't necessarily share.

The restroom was as grimy as the rest of the port, and even after washing her hands thoroughly several times, Yuniph felt they weren't clean. She avoided touching anything on the way out, and headed to the food counter to join the queue. For several minutes the queue didn't move an inch. She looked ahead of her to see what was holding up the line. The man at the top of the queue paid for his purchases and stepped away, and the procession moved up one person. Yuniph was next, but something made her turn her head.

There, somewhere in the sea of people milling around the port, something caught her eye. It was her reflection staring back. Only there was no mirror there. It took a moment for both of them to realise what they were seeing.

"You…" Yuniph's reflection started to say.

Yuniph took a step towards her. "Are you Tehvay?"

"How do you know my name?" asked the woman.

At least Rikana was right about the accent.

"I'm with—"


A dark-haired woman, slightly shorter than Yuniph came up. Yuniph guessed that it was Kikola. They were starting to attract attention and Yuniph didn't want to start a panic, so she refrained from signalling Rikana.

"She knows my name," Tehvay told Kikola.

"It's okay. I'm with Dansek Security. I'm not going to hurt you."

"Who are you?" asked Kikola, scrutinising Yuniph closely.

"My name is Yuniph. Yuniph Veilan." She suddenly remembered she was on duty and in uniform. "I am Officer Yuniph Veilan. I was told there was a stranger to Dansek who looked just like me, but this is uncanny."

"Nice to meet you," Kikola replied tersely. "Now, we really must be going."

A shiver went down Yuniph's spine. The accent was undeniably Elit, and the look in the dark-haired woman's eyes was piercing, fierce, menacing.

"Come on, Tehvay." Kikola tugged at Tehvay's arm.

"No wait! She looks just like me." Tehvay pulled herself free.

Suddenly, two shots rang out. Kikola fell at the first shot and Tehvay fell at the second. Rikana appeared and holstered her weapon.

"It's okay, people!" announced Rikana. "Security business. Nothing more to see. Move along."

"So much for keeping it quiet," muttered Yuniph.


Kikola had felt the sting of the blast hit her a moment before she passed out. When she came to, her academy training instinctively kicked in.

Weapon? Gone.

Anyone near? No.

Injuries? No.

Where am I? A cell of some kind.

Who shot me? Not the security officer that looked like Tehvay. Maybe she had a part—

Tehvay! Where's Tehvay?

Kikola stood up and looked around.

The cell was about three metres wide and six metres long. The construction was basic, but solid.

Exits? No windows. Air vent too small. Door: no mechanism on the inside.

Electronics? Camera above the door. Force field projectors covering the room's interior space.

Kikola could only wait.

She didn't have to wait long. With a few minutes of regaining consciousness, the force field sprang into life, trapping Kikola at the far end of the cell, away from the door. The door opened and a young woman wearing a dark blue uniform entered.

She grinned at Kikola.

Kikola recognised the face. It was the young woman she and Tehvay had seen at the market, the one who wanted to see their IDs. A quick assessment told Kikola that she could easily overpower the officer, if the force field wasn't activated.

She had no option but to wait for an opportunity, and prepared herself for interrogation. At the Elit Military Academy, Kikola had learned not only how to interrogate, but how to withstand interrogation. This young woman, who looked barely older than Kamina, would be easy to resist.

"I am Officer Lardis. You are Kikola Trellon." Lardis paused and held up Kikola's ID. She frowned at it and then tossed it over her shoulder. "What's your real name?"

Kikola said nothing.

"Trellon is not a Hegger Elit name. And you are a Hegger. And your accent is Elit. So don't try to deny it."

Outwardly Kikola remained impassive, eyes looking nowhere, but observing. Inwardly she was thinking. She knows I have a fake name. She knows I'm Elit. Why is she telling me this? The smart thing would be to get me to reveal it. If you can get your victim to reveal information you know, then you can have reasonable trust in something they reveal that you don't know. It's the first rule of interrogation: Tell your subject nothing. Ask your subject everything.

"Let's see what else I have in here." Lardis reached into her pocket and pulled out another ID. "Oooh! What's this?" she asked brightly, holding up the ID card. "Tehvay Bastin. Another scummy Hegger."

Kikola cursed herself as she reacted to Tehvay's name. She locked eyes with Lardis for a second before looking away. She fought down the urge to ask about Tehvay.

Lardis tapped the ID with her index finger. "You know she looks very familiar. You saw my partner at the spaceport. Did you notice the similarity?" Lardis laughed. "Of course you did. Why do they look the same? Apart from the hair and fashion sense. Huh? Can you tell me that?"

Kikola couldn't. When she had seen the officer standing in the queue staring at Tehvay and Tehvay staring back, it threw her. Kikola's instincts told her to run. Now she wished they had.

When Kikola was not forthcoming with an explanation, Lardis continued her interview seemingly undaunted. "You Elit probably cloned my partner hoping to infiltrate Dansek for your nefariri… nefo… despicabable plans." The officer took a step closer. "Of course your mighty plan has failed. You're stuck in this cell and your little clone is being cut up by our doctors—"

Kikola flinched. Her muscles tensed, ready to launch herself at the officer – force field be damned. "If you—" She bit off the words. Must not react!

Lardis gave a mock shocked look. "Oh! Hit a nerve? Have I found something to get through that hard exterior you're trying to maintain? Well, beep, beep , news update, we know enough about you that you can't try and intimidate us with silence, and now that we've got you, we've got a lifetime to get stuff out of you. So I'll be back."

Lardis turned on her heel. Kikola almost cracked and asked about Tehvay. She helplessly watched Lardis exit the cell.

Kikola slumped into a corner and tried to shut out all the horrors she imagined could be happening to Tehvay.


Yuniph had called her parents the night before to say she was going to have to work overnight. She hadn't told them anything about the woman who looked like her. Yuniph wasn't sure she knew how to begin such a conversation.

Now, Yuniph sat in a room with her commanding officer waiting for the forensic pathologist on duty, a cold cup of tea sat on the table in front of her. She stole the occasional glance at a monitor that showed the interior of the cell containing the woman with her face. The mystery woman had awoken from being stunned about thirty minutes ago and was curled up in the corner of her cell, rocking gently.

The door opened and the pathologist entered. He placed a piece of electronic paper on the desk, and Commander Simeal picked it up.

"What does it say?" asked Yuniph.

The doctor scratched his head and took a seat next to Yuniph. "Genetically identical."

"So she's a clone," said Simeal.

"Not unless Veilan was cloned when she was born." The doctor turned to look at Yuniph. "She's the same age as you and there's no sign of accelerated growth. So either she was cloned from you when you were born or she's your biological twin."

"That's impossible. I don't have a twin."

"Well, according to these DNA test results, you have a twin, and she's in a cell downstairs."

Yuniph tried to open her mouth to say something but she had no words. Suddenly her world made no sense.

"Perhaps you should go home and speak to your parents," said Simeal. "I'll go talk to her and try to get to the bottom of this."

"No! Let me," Yuniph stood up. "Look at her," she pointed to the monitor showing her duplicate. "She's scared. She's not going to talk to you, but she might talk to me."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Well I do, Sir."

"Veilan has a point, Commander," said the pathologist. "That woman is clearly on the edge. She needs to see a friendly face. Or at least one she recognises."


The cell was cold and artificially lit. With only a hard floor to lie on, it was difficult to get comfortable, and coupled with the bright lights, made it impossible to sleep. Not that Tehvay could sleep. Once again, she found her chance at freedom snatched away. And worse, she had been separated from Kikola. Tehvay never felt more alone. She huddled in a corner for warmth and wept.

She had no idea what time of the day it was. She just knew it had been a long time since she had shed her last tear. Just as she was about to call out for someone to help her, she heard the cell door open and close.

"Tehvay." The voice was soft, friendly, somehow comforting and familiar.

Tehvay looked up into a mirror of her own face smiling back at her. She wanted answers and railed against her captor. "Who are you? What do you want with me?"

"My name is 'Yuniph'," the uniformed security officer replied. "The rest I will explain shortly. In the meantime, I've brought you something to eat and drink."

Tehvay's eyes fell to the tray that held a cup of water and a plate of bread and meat. She wanted to take it, but she didn't. She just stared at the plate, shivering.

The officer took her jacket off and placed it over Tehvay's shoulders. The jacket warmed her, and even though the scent was unusual to her, it was somehow familiar.

"The food is safe to eat," said Yuniph, and she broke off a piece of bread and ate it to demonstrate. "So is the water." She took a sip and handed the cup to Tehvay.

Tehvay drank deeply and let the cup fall, spilling the remaining water on the floor. She clutched at the jacket that had been put on her shoulders and pulled it tighter around herself.

Yuniph picked up the discarded cup and put it next to the plate. There wasn't the rebuke that Tehvay expected.

"First of all," said Yuniph. "I want to apologise for you being stunned. That was not my intention. My partner can be a little rash at times. She doesn't always think before acting."

Tehvay's anger overrode her slave conditioning to never question authority. "Where's Kikola, and why have we been arrested? We have broken no laws. And why do you look like me?"

"I know you have a lot a questions. So do I." Yuniph held up the plate. "Have something to eat, please. It'll make you feel better."

Tehvay reached for a piece of meat, then changed her mind and took the piece of bread from which Yuniph had just eaten. It was fresh, still slightly warm, and tasted delicious. She forced herself to take only one bite before putting it back on the plate.

"Your friend, Kikola, is nearby and uninjured. You haven't been arrested, merely detained for questioning, for obvious reasons," Yuniph said. "We took a genetic sample from you while you were unconscious," explained Yuniph. "We, you and me, are genetically identical. Do you know what that means?"

Tehvay shook her head.

"Either we are twins or you are my clone."

"Or you could be my clone," said Tehvay warily.

"Yes, that is a possibility," Yuniph replied. "Who were your parents?"

Tehvay's mind went blank. She and Kikola had started concocting back-stories for their new identities, but they were far from complete and this was one area that they hadn't covered. Something in the familiar blue-green eyes looking back at her made Tehvay open up and tell the truth.

"I don't know. I never knew them. I was a slave." Her lips began to tremble as she fought back more tears, and Tehvay found herself being enveloped by strong arms that held her gently.

"You're not a slave anymore," Yuniph whispered.


Kikola paced the cell floor trying to work out various escape plan scenarios. Since she was unconscious when she was brought here, she had no knowledge of where 'here' was or the layout of the building to plot a possible escape route. And she had no idea where they were keeping Tehvay, so even if she did have a viable escape plan, she was not going without Tehvay. Kikola determined that the only course of action open to her was to overpower whoever came in the next time – assuming the force field was down.

When the next someone came into her cell, Kikola was ready to jump the person – that is until she recognised the face, and then she almost jumped to embrace the woman but stopped when something was not adding up. The person standing in front of her had on a uniform and her long blonde hair was pulled back. This wasn't Tehvay, but except for the hair and the clothes, Kikola couldn't tell just by looking at her.

"My name is Officer Yuniph Veilan. We met at the spaceport. I have just come from interviewing Tehvay."

"How is she? What have you done with her?" Kikola asked.

Just then, another figure walked into the cell. She had the same familiar face as the woman already standing in the room. Kikola looked from one woman to the other. "Tehvay?"

"Yes, Kikola it's me."

"I demand to know what is going on!"

"That's what we are going to find out," Officer Veilan replied. "Come with me, both of you."

"We are not going anywhere with you until you tell us what is going on," Kikola said assertively.

"I know you both want answers. So do I. Please." The officer looked at Tehvay. "I am not going to hurt either of you. I promise."

"It's okay, Kikola," said Tehvay. "I trust her."

Veilan took them outside to a vehicle and asked them to get inside. They complied with the request, and Veilan drove off without a word.

Kikola could see that it was morning, which must have meant she had been in the cell all night. Though it was summer and the nights were short, she estimated it must have been about eight hours since they were apprehended.

Kikola felt Tehvay's hand slip into her own and she gave it a gentle squeeze. All the occupants of the vehicle remained silent until they pulled up outside a small semi-detached house on the outskirts of the city.

"We're here," said Officer Veilan as she turned the vehicle's propulsion system off.

Tehvay's doppelganger led them to the front door and gestured for them to follow her inside. Kikola was wary, though there was nothing threatening about the house. Tehvay, on the other hand, seemed calm and unaffected by the situation. Tehvay was used to being thrust into new situations and surroundings , Kikola surmised. Something else to admire about her .

"Is that you, Yuniph?" asked a female voice coming from behind the door at the end of the short hallway.

"Yes," Veilan replied.

"Is Rikana with you?"

Veilan opened the door. "No," she said, "but I have people I'd like you to meet."

"Well, bring them in and introduce them," a man responded.

Kikola stepped into the home's kitchen and saw a middle-age couple sitting at a table in the centre of the room.

"This is Kikola," said Veilan. "These are my parents, Asta and Pallin."

The couple greeted Kikola cordially.

Kikola immediately recognised the family resemblance. What she had suspected, after meeting Yuniph, now seemed a reality. As she returned their greeting, Kikola remained outwardly calm, but there was a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions churning inside her mind – foremost of which was how she was going to protect Tehvay if this did not go well.

"And this is Tehvay," said Veilan, her voice was strained.

Tehvay entered the room, seemingly oblivious to the significance of what was about to happen.

Asta stood up and took a few hesitant steps towards Tehvay, then froze.

"No! It can't be!" Asta reached out and stumbled.

Tehvay rushed forward and caught her. "Are you all right?" She helped the older woman sit back down.

"Is it really you?" asked Pallin.

"I don't know," said Tehvay. "Who do you think I am?"

"Yes. I'd like to hear an explanation," said Yuniph.

He sat back down heavily. Kikola in the meantime had filled a glass with water and placed it in front of Asta. "Do you want some water?" Kikola asked Pallin.

"I think I might need something stronger."

"I'm so sorry," cried Asta. She stroked Tehvay's cheek. "I'm so sorry. We had no choice."

"No choice about what?" asked Yuniph.

"It was in the contract," said Pallin.

"What contract?"

"Our release. When our master discovered your mother was pregnant, he petitioned to have us and our child released. That was what was agreed to. It was only when she was giving birth that we discovered your mother was carrying twins."

Kikola looked over at Tehvay and could see the realisation on Tehvay's face. Tears started flowing down the former slave's cheeks.

"I don't understand," Yuniph pressed. "What does that have to do with anything? I was born in freedom. That's what you always told me."

"You were." Pallin started crying. "But it was the law!"

"You're not making sense."

"I understand," said Kikola to Veilan. "The agreement of release was for your parents and unborn child. Singular. Once that agreement was filed with the Slave Registration Board it was bound into law." She turned to face Tehvay. "They were only allowed to keep one of you. The other was a slave by law."

"So what? You just chose one of us to give away?" Veilan bitterly accused her parents.

"No, it wasn't like that," sobbed Asta. "They came to claim one of you. We had no choice."

"How did you choose? How did you choose which one to give away?" Veilan's voice started to rise in anger.

"I couldn't! How could I?" Asta exclaimed. "Neither of us could make that choice. They made the choice. We couldn't look." She turned to Tehvay. "I'm so sorry. We had no choice."

"Shh," Tehvay held her mother close and comforted the distraught woman. "It's okay. I understand. I understand."

The officer looked at her long-lost sister incredulously. "How can you? They just said they let the slavers come and take you. They didn't even try to put up a fight."

While all the crying and accusations were flying, Kikola noticed that Tehvay seemed confused by her sister's angry reaction. "They were slaves Yuniph," she said. "They could do nothing."

"They were free! They weren't slaves when we were born!"

"You don't understand, Yuni," said her father. "You can't understand. You have never been a slave."

"You're right, I don't understand. I don't want to understand. I can't understand how anyone would let someone just take their child away to a life of slavery!" She stormed off, slamming the front door behind her.

"Leave her," said Kikola as Pallin moved to follow. "She needs time to come to terms with all this."

He nodded and looked at Tehvay – looked at his daughter. "Can you forgive—?"

"Yes! Yes!" cried Tehvay. "Of course I forgive you. Both of you."

All three family members were clinging to each other crying. Kikola stood apart, watching and trying to hold back her own tears at this family's reunion.

Pallin became aware of Kikola's presence. "I'm sorry, what was your name again?"


"I'm Pallin and my wife is called Asta. You brought Tehvay… It's strange, we never had a name for you," he said to his daughter. "Where was I? Yes, you brought Tehvay here?"

"To this planet, yes. We had no idea this was where you were."

"How did you gain your freedom?" Asta asked Tehvay.

"I… um…" she looked at Kikola.

"She is not free," said Kikola.

Pallin's face clouded, and Asta doubled her hold on her daughter.

"It's all right," said Tehvay. "It's… technically I am still a slave in The Hegemony. But Kikola rescued me and we've come here to get away. If I ever go back, then I'll be classed as a fugitive slave."

"And you?" Pallin asked Kikola. "What will happen to you if you go back?"

"I don't know. I don't intend to find out."

"Are you Elit?" he asked.

"I am."

"What family?"


"So what makes a member of an Elit family, a founding family at that, leave The Hegemony with a fugitive slave?"

"Your daughter, Tehvay. She is…" Kikola paused and glanced at Tehvay, "…special. I could not let her live as a slave."

Pallin looked back over his shoulder at his wife and Tehvay. "We would like to get to know you better, but we'd like to get to know our daughter first. Do—"

"Of course."

"You are welcome to wait in the garden," Asta said, pointing to a back door. "Pallin is quite proud of it."

"My thanks." Kikola replied. "However, I think I will go back to our ship. I need a change of clothes. She drew closer to Tehvay and gave her upper arm a gentle squeeze. "In the meantime you get acquainted with your family. Call me when you are ready."

"Thank you," Tehvay said with appreciative smile.


It had taken Kikola the better part of an hour to get back to the ship. The first thing she did was strip off and take a shower. It felt strange to do it without Tehvay's presence.

What had started out as Tehvay's duty as a slave had become something of a bonding routine for them - a substitute for the sexual act. They would help each other dress and undress, thrilling at the occasional brush of skin against skin, but never touching each other in an intimate way. They would share a bed at night. Sleep entwined in each other's limbs. Sometimes they would share a kiss.

Thoughts of Tehvay flooded her body with a deep yearning. She had stopped taking the diproxaline once they had been reunited – she wanted nothing to dull her sex drive. However, Kikola could see the memories of abuse in Tehvay's eyes and never asked for anything more. She knew that if she did, Tehvay would say 'yes', but Kikola wanted it to be Tehvay who initiated any deeper sexual intimacy.

Kikola dried off and lay down on the bed, allowing her fingers to find the one place Tehvay had not touched and relieve the tension. Once sated, she got dressed and got some food from the dispenser. She was half way through the meal when her comm unit beeped.


"Tehvay. Is everything all right? Do you want me to come get you?"

"Actually, can you go and get Yuniph. Rikana… um, that's Officer Lardis, she's the one that shot—"

"I know who she is."

"Right," replied Tehvay. "Rikana called, and said Yuniph is at her place. We think she should be here, but she refuses to answer her comm. Could you go and get her to come home?"

"Sure, but why me?"

"She's upset with her parents… our parents," Tehvay's voice caught as she said those words. "I thought she might listen to you."

"All right."

Kikola got the address and headed out.


Yuniph had many friends, but when it came time to find sanctuary from the situation she found herself in, there was only one place she thought of going.

Yuniph sat on Rikana's couch with her legs curled under her, staring into the glass cradled in her hands. Rikana was not a sympathetic person. She would not put her arm around Yuniph and console her. It was the perfect place to feel the anger, because at that moment she wanted to feel it. In a single day, her life had fallen apart. She had discovered she had a twin sister – a twin sister that her parents had allowed to be taken into slavery. She could not understand or forgive them. She loved her parents but was enraged by what they had done. She was also surprised to feel a little anger towards Tehvay who had forgiven them.

Rikana sat on the arm of the couch, her feet on the seat next to Yuniph. She nudged Yuniph's thigh with her foot.

"Hey, Veilan."

Yuniph slowly turned to look at her. "What?"

"Do you know what I want more than anything?"

Yuniph shrugged. "Knowing you, probably me out of your apartment."

"Good guess. It's in my top ten wants of the week."

"I can't go back home." Yuniph went back to examining her drink.

"You can," said Rikana. "I can't."

Yuniph's lack of response seemed to annoy Rikana and she nudged Yuniph harder. "Veilan! Did you hear what I said?"


"I said, you can go back. I can't. That's what I want more than anything.

"My parents drove me crazy and we argued a lot. One day I ran out and thought I'd give them a night to worry about me, and then the next day I'd go home and we'd be okay until the next time. Only it was that night the raiders came."

"I know this story," said Yuniph. She regretted her tone, but Rikana was thick skinned.

"Well, you're going to hear it again," Rikana stated firmly.

It's not like her to be so open, Yuniph thought.

"I want to walk up that street," Rikana continued. "I want to open the door. I want to smell whatever crap my father was cooking in the kitchen. I want to see whatever dumb piece of art my mother was working on in her studio. But, I'll never have that chance. You do. Don't wait until tomorrow or the next day or until you've calmed down. Do it now."

Yuniph stared at the young woman. She wanted to be angry at Rikana, but she couldn't. A slow smile formed on her lips. "When did you get so insightful?"

Rikana shrugged and looked out the window. "Dunno, probably spent too long hanging around you," she muttered.

"Was that a compliment? Rikana Lardis, did you just say something nice about me?"

"Don't make a big deal out of it. Just go."

"No, I'm sorry, I can't."

"You can."

"They gave Tehvay away. I can't forgive them that."

"Why not? Tehvay has."

Yuniph frowned. "I don't know how she can."

"Ask her. Just get together and talk and listen and try to understand. Anything to get you off my couch."

"Can I invite her here?"

"Does this look like a counsellor's office to you? You need to deal with this at home – your home."

An unexpected knock on the door interrupted her partner's efforts to offer advice to Yuniph, much to her relief.

"This isn't over, Veilan." Rikana climbed off her perch and went to answer the door.

To Yuniph's surprise, Rikana returned with Kikola in tow.

"Look," said Rikana. "I'd love to stay and… and stuff, but I don't need this family disagreement shit." She grabbed a jacket. "Just be gone when I get back." Rikana left.

Kikola frowned. "I thought she was your friend?"

"No. Rikana doesn't do friends. We just work together," answered Yuniph from her place on the couch. She looked Kikola up and down. "Why are you here?"

Kikola remained standing near the doorway. "I have come to bring you home. Your parents and Tehvay want to talk with you."

"No, I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because they gave her up, and I can't forgive that."

"They didn't give Tehvay up. She was taken."

"Semantics. They did nothing to stop it."

"Please, come and talk to them. They need you. Tehvay needs you."


"You have to—"

"Don't tell me what to do! I'm not your slave! I'm not anyone's slave!" Yuniph exclaimed.

She wanted to jump up in defiance, but Yuniph realised that she was in essence shooting the messenger. She tried to calm herself with a deep breath, but it didn't help for long.

"I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, even Elit like you, but I've been betrayed. All my life my parents have lied to me. They gave a daughter away. It could've been me!" Yuniph shook her head, realising how that must have sounded. "Sorry, I don't mean to sound selfish."

Kikola stood directly in front of the sitting woman. "Do you think slavery is bad?"

"Of course!" Yuniph was irritated by the question. "What sort of question is that?"

"Until I met Tehvay I didn't think so." Kikola took a step closer to Yuniph. "You think slavery is bad, but do you know what it is to be a slave?"

"I can imagine it's not very nice."

"No you cannot imagine. I cannot. Tehvay and your parents may not be able to tell you, because they don't want to dredge up the memories, or they don't have the words to make you understand. But I have some words you may understand."

"What are you talking about?"

"Let us play a little game, shall we? You are my slave and I am your owner."

Yuniph was in no mood for games. "This is ridiculous."

"No," Kikola said firmly. "We will play this game, and you will obey my commands. Yet, even when we have finished, you will have no idea of what it is to be a slave. Stand up!"

"Wha—" was all Yuniph managed before Kikola hauled her to her feet.

"You're my slave. When I tell you to stand, you stand." Kikola pushed Yuniph back down. "Try again. Stand up."


Kikola leaned over and pinned Yuniph to her seat. "You're forgetting; you're my slave. You do as you're told."

Yuniph tried repeatedly to push the Elit woman away, but Kikola was very strong.

"Why are you resisting?" asked Kikola.

Yuniph felt threatened, and not at all in control of the situation which scared her. "You're insane!"

"No. I am your owner. Answer the question, why are you resisting my command?"

"Because I am not a slave!" Yuniph shouted. She gave one finally push and broke free, but only because Kikola let go and stepped back. Yuniph scrambled away and put some distance between her and the crazy Elit woman. Adrenalin was coursing through her body and Yuniph struck a defensive pose. She was prepared to fight if Kikola so much as took a step towards her.

Kikola gestured at Yuniph with her hand. "See, you don't understand. You cannot imagine what slavery is like. You resist because you are free. You have been taught slavery is wrong. But what if you were not free? What if you were taught slavery is right? From the moment you were able to understand what people were saying, they told you that you were nothing. Your purpose was to serve and obey."

Yuniph remained in her stance, but Kikola's words were sinking in, if only a little. But she still couldn't understand how her parents could helplessly stand by and watch one of their infant daughters being seized and taken away to a life of slavery. It was too inconceivable for Yuniph to grasp.

"Did you believe what you were taught in school when you were a child?" Kikola asked.

"Yes," Yuniph answered.


Yuniph shrugged.

"I will tell you," said Kikola softly. "You believed what you were taught because you were a child and your teacher was an adult. You instinctively believe what you are told, because you do not have the experience to question it."

Part of Yuniph's mind wanted to shut out Kikola's lesson, but she found herself relaxing her stance and listening more intently.

"If you were taught that you had to obey or be punished," Kikola continued, "you would believe it. If you decided to test if that were true and you disobeyed a command, you would be punished. Therefore you keep on believing it; you keep on obeying."

Yuniph was beginning to see the merit of the Elit woman's explanation. Perhaps it wasn't entirely mother and father's fault that they couldn't stand up to institutional tyranny and protect Tehvay , she thought. Yuniph felt the adrenalin ebb away. She relaxed and gave the Elit woman her attention even more.

"If you were a slave," Kikola said, "you would not be resisting my command, because you would fear being punished. The very notion that you could resist and fight back is anathema to everything you believe. The concept is totally alien to you. You have no idea that the concept of resistance exists, let alone have a word for it."

"Hmm, I see," Yuniph acknowledged.

"Shall we try and play master and slave again?"


"Why not?"

"I understand, all right!" Roiling indignation burst to the surface, and Yuniph barked at Kikola. "I get it! They were slaves! They had to obey!"

Kikola sighed and shook her head. "You may have heard what I said, but you can never understand. You can only grasp the tiniest inkling of what it's like to be a slave.

"As a slave you have no life. You exist solely for the benefit of your owner, and solely at the whim of your owner. If they don't want you, they can sell you or kill you. You are their property to do with as they see fit. Disposing of a slave is seen as nothing more than disposing of a tool you no longer need.

"If your owner decides to take a shit on the floor and tells you to eat it, you eat it. You don't think, you obey."

"You're disgusting," Yuniph replied.

"No, I am not disgusting, but if you were a slave your owner might be. As a slave you would be conditioned to obey, so eating a pile of shit would not seem disgusting to you. And your owner may be particularly depraved and like beating you as he raped you. But you would accept it, because it's what you have been taught, and you are only eight years old."

Yuniph thought of her sister getting down on her hands and knees and eating a pile of excrement. She wasn't aware that her feelings of disgust and loathing were showing on her face until Kikola reached out, grabbed her by the throat, and drove Yuniph to her knees.

"When you go home and see your sister, and she tells you that happened to her, you do not look at her like that. You look at her with compassion and love. And when your parents tell you one of their daughters was taken from them, you look at them with compassion and love, too. You will never, never understand what it is like to be a slave. But you will understand this: none of it is their fault. They are the victims."

Kikola released her grip and wiped away a tear.

Yuniph fell back on her rump and stared at the tearful woman standing over her, as she massaged her throat. She never dreamt she would ever meet a member of the Elit, let alone see one shed a tear over a slave. She didn't understand, couldn't understand, but Kikola's words had made an impact.

Beaten and raped at eight years old? Yuniph finally allowed this revelation to sink in. Poor Tehvay , she thought. How strong she must be to have survived.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I am ready to go home."



The Hope Archipelago on Kalenth consisted of fifty-three islands surrounded by a shallow tropical sea. Some islands were close enough to each other that it was possible to walk between them at low tide, others were connected via bridges, and some were only accessible by sea or air.

Oscert was an island near the centre of the group. It was connected to Talpron, the largest island in the archipelago, by road via three other islands. Hila rode an electric motored bike, a common mode of transport on the islands, across the final bridge to Oscert. The vehicle, with its wide wheels encased within the sculptured bodywork, ate up the span as if it wasn't there and disappeared into the tree-lined road on the other side.

As Hila came to a halt outside a large metal gate, she saw guards leave a small guardhouse and approach the other side of it. Two guards hovered their hands over their weapons and two more were straining at the leashes of Ybrikkians, canine-like creatures with long legs, wide muscular chests, and large serrated teeth.

"Halt! Identify yourself!" a female guard called out as Hila dismounted and walked to the gate. "I said halt! Identify yourself or we'll open fire!"

Hila ignored the guard's commands and casually removed a glove. A green light began to flash on the locking mechanism and the gates started to slowly swing open. The lock responded only to Falentha DNA, which had the guards confounded.

Hila slowly removed her helmet and shook out her straight black, chin-length hair. Smiling at the female guard, she removed her other glove and placed both of them in the helmet. "Be a good girl and park it for me," she said and tossed the helmet at the bemused looking guard.

This was too much for one male guard, and he drew his weapon.

A voice boomed from the house. "Stop! Stand down!"

At the command of their employer, the guards immediately withdrew. Hila looked towards the figure standing in the mansion's doorway and her heart started beating faster. The man turned his back and disappeared into the house.

Hila strode up the drive to the house and entered the door that had been left open for her. A blue suited slave met her as she entered the foyer. "This way," it said and led her to the library.

Hila looked around nostalgically at the hundreds of books occupying shelves along one entire wall. A sealed bookcase caught her eye. It contained very rare and expensive books, several hundreds of years old judging by the condition of their paper pages. An extravagance not afforded to most people, who used hand-held devices to access books.

She moved past the rare books to a section that contained numerous, more recent books written by an author well known to Hila, novels that she'd read since she was a little girl and continued reading into adulthood. She perused the titles and even dared to touch one or two of the volumes. They were mostly fantasy fiction novels in which the handsome hero and beautiful heroine would fight the monsters or free the land from tyrannical rule and impose their own order – a thinly veiled allegory for The Hegemony.

Just as she was returning the book to its slot on the shelf, the library door opened and in walked the master and mistress of the estate: Oalanic and Lintana ap Falentha.

Hila said nothing at first. She was shocked to find that greying hair and lines on their faces had seemed to age them well beyond what she had expected in the fifteen years since she had last seen them. "It is good to see you again," she said.

"I am afraid you have us at a disadvantage," Lintana replied.

Oalanic appeared guarded despite the technology's approval of their guest. "I take it we are related, because your DNA scan activated our gate."

Hila could not blame them for not recognising her. The face they were looking upon would not be familiar to them. Hila had altered her appearance since she had last seen them.

"Mother, Father. It's me, your daughter Gral'hilanth. I've come home."

Lintana fell back into her husband. "That is impossible. You look nothing like our daughter."

"I had my features altered when I left." Hila wanted to tell them that she couldn't bear the shame of looking at the face that had disgraced the family, but knew it would do little to mend any bridges at this time.

Oalanic helped his wife to a chair, and then turned to challenge Hila. "If you are my daughter, Gral'hilanth, then prove it. Tell me something only you and I would know."

Hila did not take long to think. "When I was eight years old, Lonnodren ap Onacon teased me about not being a true Elit, because you were Fethusal. I punched him in the face and bloodied his nose. When you got me home, I thought you were going to punish me. Instead you sat me on your knee and said, 'There will always be people who will want to tear you down because of who I am. I make no apologies for where I came from. Your mother and I fell in love, and her family accepted our union. Always be proud of who you are and where you come from. And the next time someone insults your family, don't just bloody his nose – break it. The pain is ten times worse and takes twice as long to heal,' and then you showed me the technique using the palm of my hand."

Oalanic looked at his wife, and then looked at Hila. "Gral'hilanth? It really is you."

"I'm pleased to see you both."

"Listen to yourself," her mother hissed. "You sound like a Quernal."

Hila blushed. "I'm—I am sorry. I couldn't—could not have survived unless I adapted."

"It might have been better if you had not. You brought shame upon us. Your enduring existence continues to bring shame upon us."


"Don't call me that! You're not my daughter!"

Hila detected the stress on the contraction that indicated her mother did not mean it as an endearment for a child, but contempt for someone beneath her. Her mother got up from the chair, turned on her heels, and walked from the room. Hila stepped forward to follow her, but her father blocked her way.

Oalanic was wearing his military uniform. His rank was lunguseth, a rare rank reserved for those military officers who had married into the Elit. Since he was not born Elit, he could not become an aloyd, but as his first born that right befell Hila, or would have had she not been expelled from the Elit Military Academy.

"Why have you come back?" he asked quietly, but forcefully.

"I have news. News that The Council should hear."

"What news?"

"News that I hope will reinstate me as an aloyd."

"Oh, and what is of such importance that The Council would deign to grant you an audience, let alone reinstate you?" He asked with a slightly derisive tone.

"I have information about Kikola ap Karthen. I know that she's planning to run away. She's turning her back on The Hegemony, on the Elit, on her birth right!"

"What are you talking about? Kikola ap Karthen is the finest aloyd the Academy has produced in generations and the next Rivelor."

"The next Rivelor!" Hila was dumbfounded. "That makes everything much worse! Karthen isn't the paragon of virtue that everyone seems to think she is."

"Are you talking about what happened on Dameb?"

"Dameb?" Hila was momentarily thrown by mention of the planet. "Oh, you mean that she killed Durell ap Taliss. How can it be that she kills another Elit and only gets demoted? Anyone else would have been executed, but Karthen just gets a slap on the wrist. Yet I—"

"You do not know the whole story, if that is what you believe," her father chided. "The Council's decision not to execute Karthen was due to extenuating circumstances. Supreme-Aloyd Taliss had tried to start a war with the Losper Empire, and he did so by trying to have Aloyd Karthen assassinated. He acted without the authority of The Council, and his actions were treasonable. The Council ruled that Karthen was justified, though should not have acted without The Council's permission, and that is why she was demoted and reassigned to Chilursa."

"The way you talk, you'd think she was your daughter and not me."

"Gral'hilanth, you are my daughter and I love you. I would give anything to have you come home, but you know the rules as well as I do."

"If that is true, then you will help arrange to get me in to see The Council. I know for a fact that she's fallen in love with her slave – her female slave." Hila cringed a bit inside having to play the taboo card, especially given her feelings for Kamina. "She's betraying everything for which we stand."


"Yes! All my life I have wanted nothing more than to serve The Hegemony. It was my destiny to be an aloyd. I wanted that more than anything for your sake, Father. Do you think that changed after I left?"

"How can I know you're not lying?"

"Because I am your daughter and I have never lied to you." Hila could see her father considering her words. "Help me expose Karthen's treachery; expose her perversion with her slave. Discredit her as she discredited me. Use that to regain my position, my birth right, and erase the shame she brought on us !"

"If what you say is true, then there will be serious ramifications, perhaps even a shift in power on The Council. Your cousin Ill'sandreth is now our representative on The Council. I will arrange a meeting with her. You can tell her everything you know and she can bring it before The Council."

"The sooner, the better."


When they had left Shibato, Hila didn't tell Kamina where they were going. All Hila had said was 'home'. Kamina didn't realise what Hila meant by 'home'. To the two of them, 'home' had always meant the Glyndwr . Kamina had no idea where Hila was from originally, and Hila never talked about it. So when they laid in a course for Kalenth, Kamina didn't know what was going on, and Hila was in no mood to explain.

When they finally landed on Kalenth, Hila ordered Kamina to stay on board ship until she got back, and judging by her tone, she really meant it.

Kamina did as she was told and didn't leave the Glyndwr , not even to venture out into the spaceport for something to eat. Instead, she watched vids, and slept, and paced, and worried. Finally, after several hours, Hila returned. When Hila entered the lounge, Kamina jumped up and greeted her with a big smile and a hug. She was disappointed that Hila did not greet her with the same enthusiasm.

"What's the matter?" Kamina asked.


"You've been gone for hours and all I get is a half-hearted hug?" Kamina meant to tease Hila into saying something, but Hila remained tight-lipped and sombre, and this was never a good thing.

Hila walked across the room, went into a cupboard, pulled out a container, and poured herself a glass of durmywid, a strong synthetic alcohol that looked something akin to engine lubricant, according to Kamina, but had a light aniseed taste they both enjoyed.

Kamina watched as her girlfriend threw back the contents of her glass in one gulp and then pour herself another.

"Hila, talk to me. Tell me what is going on," she said gently.

"I can't, not yet." Hila's reply was terse.

Kamina was getting impatient for answers. "What do you mean 'not yet'?" She folded her arms. "I think I have a right to know why you made us leave Shibato and come here."

"I'm trying to make things better for us," said Hila.

"What do you mean?" Kamina asked.

"I want to take care of you, and if things work out I'll be able to do that."

"Did you get another job?" Excited at the prospect, Kamina dropped her defensive posture.

"No," Hila replied.

"Then what?"

"I am— I'm not who you think I am."

Hila had stopped and corrected her speech, which Kamina thought odd. But then nothing Hila had done or said lately was normal.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Kamina asked suspiciously.

Hila came back with drink in hand and had Kamina join her on the couch.

Kamina sat down and gave Hila her full attention, expecting an explanation; however she was not prepared for the explanation Hila was about to give her.

"My name is not Hila Llyte, it's Gral'hilanth. Gral'hilanth ap Falentha."

Kamina looked at her in bewilderment.

"Gral'hilanth Lintana ap Falentha." Hila added.

"I don't understand. That's an Elit name."

"I am Elit, or was," Hila replied.

"You're not making any sense." Kamina sat up on edge of the couch. "If you were born Elit, why in the universe would you give that all up to become a freighter captain?"

"It's a long story."

"Does this have something to do with why we came all the way to Kalenth?"

"Well, sort of. Let me explain," Hila replied.

"Yes, perhaps you should start at the beginning," Kamina said, leaning back and folding her arms again.

"You see," Hila got up from the couch and started pacing the floor in front of Kamina. "I was the eldest child born to Oalanic and Lintana ap Falentha. I always knew growing up that I was meant to become an aloyd. Not only was it my calling, it was my greatest aspiration, for my father's sake as well as my own."

"Why is that?" Kamina was drawn into the story Hila was telling her and listened with more empathy.

"My father was Fethusal – a career military man. He married into the Elit when he met and fell in love with my mother. It was important that I become an aloyd and fulfil his deepest desire to see his daughter rise to the highest military ranks."

"I see," said Kamina. "Then what happened? Did you go to the Academy?"

"Yes, I went to the Academy, but I made a mistake. It was a stupid mistake, and I paid the price for it. My family paid the price for it. I was expelled from the Academy, and to save my family from the shame of it, I left home, changed my name, even my looks. That was fifteen years ago, and I haven't been back since – until today."

"How awful for you. I'm sorry." Kamina got up and put her arms around Hila.

At first Hila was stiff, not readily accepting her girlfriend's comfort, but soon Kamina felt Hila give in and relax. Kamina tightened her hold. She wanted so much to kiss away Hila's troubles, but she sensed there was more to the story.

She loosened her hold and prompted Hila to continue. "Why didn't you tell me all this? Why hide it from me?"

"Because, I wanted to forget my past, but seeing Karthen brought it all back up again."

"Oh, so, that's why we came to Kalenth. You're trying to get them to accept you back."


"But what about us? I'm not Elit. I grew up on the street. Jarrel and Mirdo were Quernal. If you become Elit again, would you even be allowed to associate with me?"

"Of course. It just means we can't be open about our relationship, but that is a price I'm willing to pay to keep you safe."

Kamina pulled away from Hila. She had a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Can't be open about us? I'm not sure I'd like that. I love you and I want everyone to know it."

"And I love you, and that wouldn't change. We just can't let other people know."

"Why?" Kamina was struggling to make sense of what Hila was telling her.

"For Elit, it is taboo." Hila closed the gap between them, put her hands on Kamina's shoulders and tried reassuring her. "But we'll have each other, we'll have wealth and comfort and above all, security. No more dealing with petty criminals, no more wondering whether the next payment is going to be in credits or plasma bolts. What do you say? Wouldn't you like that?"

Kamina didn't give a toss about wealth and comfort and all that, but she could see how important it was to Hila, and she loved Hila enough to consider it. "I guess so."

"Good, that's settled. I'm pleased that you agree."

"Whoa! I'm not saying 'yes'. I'm saying I'd consider it, because it seems so important to you."

Hila leaned in. "Thank you," she whispered into Kamina's expectant mouth and then sealed it with a smouldering kiss.

At that point, Kamina would have agreed to just about anything, but something didn't add up. Kamina reluctantly broke the kiss. "But, what makes you think they will accept you after all these years?"

Hila poured herself another glass of durmywid, drank a mouthful, and said, "Because I have something to offer them."


"Karthen," Hila replied.

"Kikola? What about Kikola?" Kamina asked warily.

"She betrayed me, so I am going to repay her in kind."

Kamina put some distance between the two of them. "What do you mean 'repay her in kind'?"

"I'm going to tell The Council about Karthen's plans to run away – turn her back on her career, her family – all for the love of a slave. The fact that Tehvay is female makes it worse."

Kamina was horrified. "You can't!"

"Can't what?"

"Betray our friends."

"Karthen is no friend of mine," Hila scoffed.

"You said Kikola betrayed you. How exactly?"

"She destroyed my life, and now I am going to destroy her."

"But why? They were nice, and they made a lovely couple. You can't destroy them for your own needs."

Hila's frowned. "I'd destroy anything and anyone for this chance." Glancing at Kamina, she added "…for the both of us." Hila's expression turned stony. "Besides, Karthen was responsible for getting me expelled. And now she's willingly giving up what I was forced to give up because of her."

"What about Tehvay? Doesn't she deserve to be happy?"

"Why should I care about a slave? It's you and me that matter."

"Is there any other way you can become Elit again without hurting them?"

"You don't understand," Hila replied. "I had everything laid out before me. I was to be an aloyd – a rank that my father could never have achieved, but was meant for me in his honour. Karthen destroyed that. She smiled as she destroyed it. She enjoyed it. Now it's my turn to enjoy destroying her. I'm going to reclaim not just what was meant for me, but for my father, and my family. Can you understand that?"

Kamina stared at Hila. "I never knew you could be so mean. Can't you just forget it? Forgive Kikola and just move on."

Hila tried another tack. "If you could get back at whoever was responsible for the deaths of Jarrel and Mirdo – or your real parents – you would. This is the same."

"No! It's not the same," Kamina replied. She felt angry for Hila bringing up her adopted parents. "Both my birth family and my adopted family were taken from me, and yes, I would have done anything to not have them die. But avenge them? After seeing what revenge is doing to you, how it is twisting you into a cold-hearted, bitter person, I'm not so sure. Perhaps the price for revenge is too high. I know I wouldn't destroy innocent lives in the process."

"Karthen is not innocent. Fifteen years ago, that snot-nosed brat destroyed my career and ruined my life, and now that high and mighty bitch thinks she can run away with her slave with no day of reckoning? If bringing her down gets me what I want, then I consider it a win-win."

"Do you hear yourself?"


"You are willing to destroy Kikola and Tehvay's happiness and freedom just so you can become Elit again, without any regard to what it will do to us! You may be able to live with that, but I'm not sure I can!"

"Don't be so melodramatic," Hila replied.

"Me, melodramatic? You are such a hypocrite!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hila asked in a defensive tone.

"You condemn Kikola for wanting to be free to love Tehvay, and in the same breath you tell me we're going to have to keep our love a secret so you can be Elit again. You are some piece of work Hila, or Gral'hilanth, or whatever your real name is!"

Kamina stormed off before she said something she might really regret.


Hila had thought about going after Kamina – to try and make her understand; however, she never got the chance, because her father called to inform her that The Council would see her.

Hila sat in the anteroom of the Council Chambers having made her statements to the Council members. Her father sat in a chair next to her. He looked pensive, maybe even worried. After all, Hila surmised, Oalanic had taken a huge risk to bring his disgraced daughter to give testimony against Aloyd Karthen.

"Whatever happens, Father, I just want to express my appreciation for your support in this matter."

"I am not sure I have done you a service, daughter. This could go against you. I am not sure your mother can endure the disgrace a second time."

"And you, father?" Hila asked.

"I am not prepared to lose you again, whatever happens," Oalanic replied.

Hila almost rose to give her father a hug, but that was not the Elit way. Control and decorum were the watchwords of appropriate behaviour. Instead, she gave him a slight nod of appreciation.

It had been more than an hour since The Council had sequestered themselves behind the massive doors to decide her fate. Finally, the metal doors opened. Council members started filing out of the chamber room. One of the figures detached from the flow and headed towards Hila and her father. It was her cousin, Ill'sandreth – the Falentha representative on The Council. Both Hila and her father rose as she approached them.

Ill'sandreth ushered them into a private room off the antechamber to relay the outcome of the meeting.

Hila could not believe it. She stood there in stunned silence.

"Another close vote," said Ill'sandreth. "But The Council's decision is to do nothing. Karthen has forsaken her position in the Elit, her destiny as the next Rivelor. The shame is to be carried by her family for generations. The Council deems that punishment enough."

"What?" Hila blurted in disbelief.

Her father gave her a sharp glance. "What of Gral'hilanth?" asked Oalanic.

Ill'sandreth glanced at Hila then down to the floor before giving her relatives the news. "It is the decision of The Council that Gral'hilanth can regain her status as Elit, but she will be Hebsifilla."

It took Hila a few moments to register the word. She looked to her father, whose face was drained of colour. Those who, for whatever reason, could not fulfil their chosen role were labelled Hebsifilla. It was a name that was pitied, and only admitted with embarrassment. It meant you were Elit in name only. You did not contribute to the betterment of society; you were only a drain on it. It was to have been her fate fifteen years ago – which was why she fled – but this time for Hila it was a way in.

"Well, that is it then," Oalanic said with resignation.

"I will accept it – for now. At least it is a start," Hila tried to put a positive spin on the ruling.

"But," continued Ill'sandreth. "There is something of which you should be aware. The vote to accept you back was overwhelming, however, the vote for whether to send you back to the Academy to complete your training as an aloyd, or make you Hebsifilla was closer."

Both Hila and her father reacted with surprise.

Ill'sandreth glanced around the room and then lowered her voice. "There might be another way to achieve your goal and become an aloyd."

"Really?" asked Hila. "What do I have to do?"

"Go to this address." She handed Hila a data chip.




The address took Hila into the heart of Ralkatar, Kalenth's capital city – a city of gleaming white high-rise buildings dotting the otherwise lush verdant stretches of parklands and clear blue canals that fed into a vast sea to the west. She entered the lift that took her to the penthouse. As the lift shot up the outside of the residential building, Hila strained to see if she could make out the Hope Archipelago, but it was just below the horizon. When the lift stopped, Hila was directed by an automated voice to disembark and proceed to Penthouse 1A.

A female slave met Hila at the door and showed her into the lounge. While Hila was waiting for the penthouse owner to arrive, she took in the ambiance of the room and the bold design. Reds, pinks, blues, greens, yellows and oranges fought for dominance. Pictures of sunlit landscapes, vases of flowers and animal figurines made of precious metals were everywhere Hila looked. As she took in the opulence of the residence, her curiosity increased.

Pride of place was given to a portrait of two young, fair-haired boys.

"Those are my sons," said a slight woman with light blonde hair who smiled as brightly as the décor as she greeted Hila.

In contrast to the vibrancy of the colourful room, the woman was dressed in a long black tunic with an open collar and flowing trousers underneath. The clothes made her seem more austere than the surroundings would suggest. "Do you know who I am?"

"No," replied Hila, though she surmised that whoever this was, she was someone important.

The woman didn't seem offended. "My name is Ambra Kartrine ap Lentol. I am the Council Member for Military Operations."

Hila was excited to be in the presence of the one person who could help her become an aloyd, but she didn't want to appear too eager. "I am honoured to make your acquaintance, but I'm not sure why I am here – in Ralkatar."

"Yes, that would seem a bit confusing," Ambra admitted. "I do have a residence in The Civic, near the military academy. I keep this flat for more 'private' meetings," the Council Member explained, "like this one."

"Oh," replied Hila. "Very… colourful," was all she could think of to say.

"May I offer you a drink?" Ambra directed a slave towards a cabinet positioned against a wall. "What would you like? Durmywid? That is your favourite, is it not?"

Hila nodded.

"Excellent!" Ambra said. While the drink was being prepared Ambra gestured towards a yellow couch on the opposite side of the room. "Please have a seat. We have much to discuss."

"I'm sure we do," Hila said, taking a seat.

Ambra shook her head. "Still speaking like a Quernal."


"Never mind," said Ambra as she joined Hila on the couch.

The drinks were served and the slave took its position against the wall, eyes staring blankly downward. It had been many years since Hila had been around slaves. She was still keenly aware of their presence.

The two women sipped on their drinks in silence until the councillor enquired if the durmywid was to Hila's liking. Hila assured her it was first rate. After a few more minutes, Ambra got down to the business at hand.

"Did your cousin Ill'sandreth say anything to you about the reason for this meeting?"

"No, she just said that there might be another way to become an aloyd, besides going back to the Academy, and then she gave me your address."

"I see," the Council Member for Military Operations said thoughtfully. "Gral'hilanth… may I call you Gral'hilanth, or do you prefer 'Hila'?"

Hila's eyebrows registered her surprise at hearing an Elit use her Quernal name. "How do you know my—"

Ambra chuckled. "Oh I know all there is to know about you, my dear." She took the last sip of her drink and put the glass on the table. "For example, I know that you have spent the better part of fifteen years in exile, living among the Quernal as a freighter captain."

Hila suddenly felt like a bug under a microscope. "Yes, that is true."

"And I know that you made your living transporting cargo for anyone willing to pay, especially a man named Zerbilla."

"That's righ—I mean, that is correct."

"And I know that you travel with a companion – a female companion," said Ambra as she sidled a little closer to Hila.

"Yes," Hila replied warily. Does she really know everything about me? She wondered. Hila looked into her durmywid. "What is your point?"

Ambra reached out and took the glass from Hila. She swirled the durmywid around in the glass for a few moments, and then drank it.

Hila was immediately thrown by the unusual behaviour. What have I got myself into?

"The Hegemony is broken," she said. "Or more to the point, The Elit are broken."

"I know I have been away a long time, but just how are The Elit broken?" Hila asked.

Ambra made a slight hand gesture. The slave hurried across the room and came back with two more glasses of durmywid.

"We have become too big," Ambra answered as the slave placed the drinks on the table. "There are too many voices, too many opinions. We waste our time training Elit to become artists and business people. We should be civic leaders and soldiers. We should be rulers."

Ambra paused to take a sip of her drink, and Hila suspected it was also to see how Hila would react. Hila had been in countless business negotiations, so she knew better than to react one way or another. Though this was unlike any business meeting she had been in.

The council member casually continued the conversation. "What do you know of ancient history? Of Midoith, the planet on which our race originated?" Ambra shifted position, turning to face Hila and leaning forward almost as if she wanted to trap Hila in her seat.

Is she trying to seduce me? There's definitely a bit of flirting going on, Hila thought.

"Very little," replied Hila. "I know it lies in the Seconthan Republic, they call it Earth – barely habitable and exhausted of nearly all resources."

"That is about all most people know. But that is now; I am talking about the distant past. When humans settled in this part of the Galaxy, the founding families of The Hegemony had a vision – one based on an ancient civilisation on Midoith called the Romans."

Hila mentally ran through her recollections of ancient history from school. "Yes, I have heard of them. The Romans knew that only the best should be allowed to rule and that only a few can be the best," Hila said, reciting something she remembered from a lecture.

"Indeed," Ambra replied. "The Romans conquered many lands, but their ruling class remained the same at its core. That is where The Hegemony has strayed. As systems are conquered or annexed, we have increased the number of Elit families accordingly."

"The Falentha family joined the Elit during the first Expansion," Hila pointed out.

"As did the Lentol family," Ambra replied.

"There are some on The Council that feel The Elit have become too many, that it is time to thin the numbers, before the next Expansion."

Hila stared at the minister. "Are you talking about civil war?"

"No. I am talking about culling the dead weight and making The Elit strong again." Ambra turned away from Hila and took another drink, she seemed irritated. "The debacle over Aloyd Karthen, not once, but twice, has shown that The Council has been weakened by such liberal attitudes. It should have been a simple decision. She killed an Elit. She should have been executed." She put her glass down and once more turned to face Hila.

"How do you plan to 'thin the numbers' without killing Elit?" asked Hila.

"That is not a problem if they are no longer Elit," the Council Member replied. "But I am speaking in poetic terms. Once declared non-Elit, they will have no power."

"Why do you want to do this?"

"The common people have infected us, tainted our purity for so long we do not realise it. The Elit will be stronger once we rid ourselves of this infection ."

Hila felt offended and made it known as politely as she could. "My father was Fethusal."

"Oh, I'm not speaking about your family. Your father is a fine military officer and has been a great example of what an Elit should be."

"My thanks for saying so," Hila replied. "So let me see if I understand. You are of the opinion that The Council has become ineffectual, because the ranks of Elit have grown too large and somehow become 'tainted'."

"To put it simply, yes. Aloyd Karthen is a prime example of this. She was to be the next Rivelor, but she has thrown away her career for the love a female slave? You, yourself brought us this news. It is depraved, would you not agree?"

"Well, I, uh yes." The effects of the durmywid were dulling Hila's usually quick wits.

Ambra smiled enigmatically. "We know that the Quernal indulge in certain… how shall I phrase it… unnatural practices. Things that Elit should not do, at least not openly. But we must be strong. We must resist the urges. That is just one of the ways we have become infected. Over time, with a smaller, stronger Elit, these influences will become a thing of the past."

"And until such a time, what do we do about these… urges?"

"Resist them. Or find an outlet for them discreetly."

Hila wasn't quite sure, but she had the feeling Council Member Lentol wasn't speaking in generalities.

"What part am I to play in this?"

Ambra sidled closer to Hila on the couch. "I don't have the authority to grant you a commission as an Aloyd. However, if I don't tell The Council they won't know."

Ambra got up, opened the drawer on a nearby side table, and took out a small black box. She opened the box and allowed Hila a glance at its contents. Hila immediately stood to attention.

Ambra said, "If anyone asks, you are Gral'hilanth Lintana ap Falentha, Aloyd, Third-Class." She handed Hila the box containing her rank insignia: a reverse 'C' with one over bar. "Hopefully you won't have to maintain the deception too long."

Hila was elated, but then suspicious. Who am I going to have to kill for it? she wondered.

"Do you accept?"

"Yes!" Hila replied.

"Good. I want you to remember to whom you owe your loyalty."

"To you, of course," Hila said without hesitation.

"In three days I want you to report to the Ralkatar spaceport. There'll be a ship waiting to take you to Nediam where you'll rendezvous with, and take command of the heavy cruiser Relentless . Do not let the crew know your true status. As far as they are aware they will be on manoeuvres testing out the upgraded systems. Stick to the borders and away from the core worlds for the time being. Avoid contact with anyone but me. I am positioning the fleet carefully and when the time is right – we strike. And I will want you by my side when we do."

"I appreciate the faith you have in me. I will not let you down."

"No, I don't think you would ever disappoint." The blonde-haired woman cast a long glance at Hila. "We need to be strong. We can be stronger together… and if we…" Ambra raised her hand and stroked Hila's cheek, "… cannot resist, then we can help each other."

Hila knew the kind of 'help' Ambra was referring to, and she was willing to do whatever was necessary to secure her position as an aloyd – even that. "I am at your command, and at your service, Ma'am," Hila said knowingly.

Ambra smiled and said, "Then you need only do one other thing."

"What is that?"

"You are to complete the mission you failed at the Academy."

"Huh? How can I do that? That girl could be anywhere."

"We are Elit, we have ways of finding people." Ambra held out a data chip. "This will tell you where, and who, she is."


When Hila finally got back to the Glyndwr , she found Kamina lying on the bed asleep with a bottle of durmywid propped in the crook of her arm. Hila gently removed it and placed it on the floor.

"Hey," slurred Kamina. "Thought you forgot 'bout me. Been gone ages," The first syllable of 'ages' was drawn out to represent how long she thought Hila had been gone.

"I know, I'm sorry. But I'm back now," said Hila.

"So…what have you been up to?"

"I have had a very eventful day. I have regained my position in the Elit and been granted a commission as an Aloyd, Third Class," Hila said.

"Is that good? That is good, right?"

"I guess so."

"What's wrong? I thought this was want you wanted."

Hila shook her head. "It is, but before I can don the uniform of an aloyd, I have to complete what I failed to do at the Academy."

"Then do it. Whatever it is."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"They want me to kill someone."

"Kill someone?" Kamina sat up and tried to sober up. "Why?"

Hila dredged up all her reserves of courage to make her confession. "Remember when I said that I had attended the Academy, but that I was expelled because I made a mistake?"

"Vaguely," Kamina replied rubbing her head, as if that would cure her hangover.

Hila explained, "Kami, I need you to listen to what I have to say."

"Surrrre," Kamina drawled. She tried to focus her eyes on her Hila but was having trouble. The lights in the bunkroom were too bright.

"Kami!" Hila raised her voice to get Kamina's attention.

"Huh? Oh, sorry." Kamina started to sink into the pillows again but caught herself nodding off and opened her eyes wider. "You were saying?"

Hila sighed. "Fifteen years ago, as part of an Academy exercise, I was sent to Polen City with instructions to kill everyone at a particular address."

"Polen City?" Kamina sat up straighter. "I'm not going to like this, am I." It wasn't a question.

"I killed three people. A man, a woman, and a boy," Hila said sombrely. "The fourth one was a little girl, but I—"

"You!" Kamina bolted upright. "It was you who killed my family!"

"I swear, I didn't know it was your family," Hila plaintively tried to explain.

"Why are you telling me all this?"

"They want me to finish what I started, but I can't," Hila loudly bemoaned.

Kamina didn't hear; she launched herself at Hila. Hila easily avoided the drunken lunge. Angry at missing, Kamina turned and came at her again.

Hila cried out as sharp nails scraped across her face, narrowly missing her right eye. "Kami, please!"

Hila's plea fell on deaf ears. Hila tried to grab hold of her, but Kamina was wild with rage.

Blood trickled into Hila's eye as Kamina continued to batter her around the head.

"Kami, stop!" She reached out and grabbed at a wrist. "Ow!" Hila gave an involuntary cry as Kamina's forehead crashed into her nose. Pain flared across her face and she tasted blood. Without thinking, Hila brought the palm of her hand up and pushed Kamina away, hitting the bridge of Kamina's nose with all her might.

With blood oozing from her nostrils, Hila stumbled to the washbasin, soaked a towel, and held it to her bloodied nose. After a few moments the bleeding had stopped. Hila realised that she had not heard any sounds coming from Kamina. She knew she had hit Kamina fairly hard, so she expected screams of pain or cursing from the other side of the room. There was nothing. Silence.

Hila spun around. Kamina was lying on the floor, her head propped up against the bulkhead. There was something terribly wrong. Kamina's eyes were open but they looked dull. Her stomach clenched in horror as she noticed the angle of the neck.

She rushed forward and fell to her knees by the younger woman. "Kami," she reached out and gently shook her. "Kami!" The reality finally set in. "Kami! Kami!" Hila sat back and sobbed. "Kamina," she whispered.



Hila didn't know how long she had been sitting in the bar. She knew she had turned down four propositions and staggered to the bathroom ten times. The number of drinks she had consumed eluded her. It was obviously not enough for her to run out of credit, so it was not time to leave.

She decided to have a nap before her next drink and laid her head down on the table. Disturbing images flashed through her inebriated brain. It was difficult to tell what was real. She dreamt that she was in a bar ordering a drink, only she kept getting served with the wrong drink. She cried out in frustration and jerked awake.

"I didn't order this," she slurred and pushed the glass in front of her away.

The glass was pushed back.

"Drink it."

"No! I didn't order it! I ordered durmywid. Just durmywid, no ice, no fruit. Why can't you get it right?"

She focussed on the glass and its pale white contents. Then the hand pushing the glass towards her came into focus and she allowed her gaze to follow the arm up towards the face.

"Drink it."


"Drink it! It will help sober you up, so I don't have to drag you out of here and cause a scene." Her father sat down next to her, took her hand and wrapped it around the glass. "Now drink."

A child-like smile formed on her face as she brought the glass to her lips, all the time keeping her eyes on her father. The bitter taste of penclur, a hangover cure, caused her to grimace and her head started to clear. It was not enough to make her completely sober, but it was a start.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. "We have been looking for you for two days."

"She… Kami is dead."

"Yes, I know."

"She's dead! I kill—" her voice could not finish the sentence. She wanted to break down and cry, but some part of her could not do so in front of her father.

"You did what was asked of you. As you should have done fifteen years ago."

"I'm… I am sorry. I did not mean to disappoint you. I—I—she was my—" At that moment Hila wanted to grab her father by the collar and tell him what Kamina really meant to her. But she could not lose him again. "She was my friend. I was so lonely after I was made to leave and she was my friend. I don't… didn't have many. She was like family. I missed you so much."

He turned his head to the side to avoid looking at her. "A friend? Family? How can you say that about a… Labror? She was not fit company for you. You are better off without her and she is better off dead."

Hila wanted to lash out and punch her father for insulting the memory of her girlfriend. In her mind she did. "You are right," Hila heard herself say. "I have longed to return home to my family. It's best that there's nothing of that other life left. I will not disappoint you again. Please, say I can come back."

Oalanic turned to face his daughter. "It took many years to remove the stain of your failure. Even now there are some that hold it against us. Your mother fought hard to get her family to accept me for her husband. Yes, it is permitted, but it is still looked down on by some to marry a military officer. People told your mother it was my non-Elit genes that caused your failure. She stood by me. That is what hurt the most, not your botched assignment."

"I really am so sorry," said Hila.

"Ambra ap Lentol is prepared to give you the rank of Aloyd, Third-Class. Do not disappoint your mother again."

It was as if a switch was flipped in her head. A lifeline thrown to a drowning woman. A chance. A chance for redemption. A chance for revenge. "I promise," said Gral'hilanth.


Kikola had made herself scarce during the family reunion; she felt her presence was an intrusion in the private matter. Hours passed and Kikola stood in the Veilan's garden just enjoying the feel of the suns on her face.

One of the suns had already set, and the other was slowly nearing the horizon, when she heard a noise behind her. She turned around and saw Tehvay emerging from her parents' house, red-eyed but with a contented smile on her face.

"I think I'm home," she said.

Kikola could only smile.

"You, my parents, Yuniph, here, now. I have a family and…" tears rolled gently down Tehvay's cheeks. "I didn't think I could cry anymore today." She chuckled as she wiped them away. "I have a family and so do you. Come and join us."

They linked arms and walked into the house, closing the door behind them.





Author's Page Harpy

Author's Page HkdonXetG

Return to Main Page