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Introduction:

This contains all the chapters
Keys

The world of Keys was a tropical paradise, ninety percent water with hundreds of thousands of islands. One of the better things to happen here was the accidental release of Tuna. Unlike on old earth they thrived and grew. They grew much larger than anywhere else in fact. A full grown Tuna could weight over three thousand pounds.

Keys was not a commercial world though, it was one of recreation. Tourist would flock here to swim in the temperate ocean or sport fish for the huge Tuna. We did export most of the tuna caught and even had specialists that prepared and mounted the fish caught.

Most people lived on a group of islands known as Kila. There were a few underwater cities that lived off underwater farms or special fisheries and there was even one floating city that grew altered sharks.

I smiled back at Jennifer as we closed with the dock and then turned to throw the line I held across to the dock worker. The King’s Tear was a one hundred and ten foot trihull sport fisher. I tied off the mooring line and moved to the back to secure the second one as Jen shut the engines off. I turned as our ten guests came out of the lounge carrying bags. The dock worker pushed the boarding ramp across and I secured it.

I smiled and shook hands as they filed off the ship headed for their resorts. Now the work could begin, I headed for the port hatch to help Jen as she lifted it and threw it back. She grinned, “It was a good week. Ten customers, five tuna each and only two wanted the flesh.”

I grinned as I reached her and bent to shut the stasis off and drop into the hold, “enough to relax for a couple of months on that fancy boat of yours?”

She laughed as she lowered the dock boom, “If we can get another run like this week, yeah.”

I pulled a net off the hold wall and worked it around one of the tuna before nodding up to her. Three hours later we moved the King’s Tear out and moored her. We tossed our small bags in the inflated skiff and Jen grinned as she accelerated away.

She had lived with me for three years now and I was actually thinking of making it permanent. She was a college graduate with a degree in marine biology and a zest for life. We moved quickly across the water headed towards a distance island.

I relaxed and turned to watch as it approached. My eyes picked out the two men trying to seem like natives. A single glance told me they were something else. We were almost to the beach behind my house when I spotted two more men. The fifth man stood as we approached the dock.

I did not even think, I spun and dove, my arm sweeping out to grab Jen as I went over the side. There was a searing flash and explosion as we hit the water. I dove, pulling Jen after me. I swam under the dock and then up for a quick breath of air. The water had a tint of red and Jen was gasping. One look told me she had been hit in the chest and had broken some ribs and a punctured lung.

I nodded and dove pulling her after me as I swam straight down. I knew those men would be closing in to finish us. I swam to a large screen and yanked it back before reaching in and grabbing a breather mask. I pulled Jen close and pushed the mask over her mouth and nose. She grabbed it hesitantly and I reached down to grab the pull rope while keeping a tight hold on her.

One yank and we were suddenly being pulled down and into the three foot tunnel. It seemed like forever before we were suddenly in a small lighted enclosure with a plastic composite door. I spun the wheel and opened the door before pulling Jen in. I closed the door as my air began running out. I hit the red fist sized button and the water around us quickly began to disappear.

I surface and took a huge breath of air before turning to Jen. She was in bad shape from the blood she kept spitting out. I waited until the water was down to our knees before hitting the release on the inner door. The water flooded out and spilled down through a grate on the other side of the door. I helped Jen out and pulled her down the narrow hall.

I had not been down here for over a year but everything was working as it should. The room we came to was ten feet long and twelve wide. I laid Jen down on her side. I had to see to her first. I pulled a large bag from a wall cabinet and set it down beside her. The med scanner was a little older but it was one of the best models available.

I looked at the scanner and pulled the tissue tractor out. I used both to pull the rib fragments out of her lungs and set them. I sat back thinking and shook my head, I did not have a choice. I stood and opened another cabinet and pulled the large bag out of the med stasis unit. I slipped an IV into Jen’s arm and plugged the bag into the IV set.

I opened it wide and caressed her face, “Stay here and stay still.”

She was still gasping but nodded. I stood and moved to another wall, one push and it split and slid aside. I stripped and reached for the black clothing folded on the shelf. Next was the harness and the belt with my pistol. I slung the stubby barreled assault rifle over my right shoulder and under my left arm. I check Jen once more and turned to push on the opposite wall from the way we came in.

A narrow tunnel appeared as the wall dropped into the floor. I crawled onto the flat tray and reached up to press the green button. The tray I was lying on was suddenly moving. I counted to myself until the tray stopped and then reached up blindly to find the switch. The end of the tunnel disappeared and I pulled myself out. I crossed the three feet and touched a grey looking box in a solid wall.

It cleared and I was looking down at the area around my house. The five men were spread out searching and I knew it was only a matter of time before they found my safe room and Jen. I turned and pushed up on the metal grill and climbed up slowly. I was in a thick bush that completely covered the grate.

I crawled out and saw one of the men turn towards me and lifted my rifle and squeezed the trigger as he tried to dive away. It was only a body that hit the ground, I rolled and crawled to the fountain I had put in while my hunters fanned out. I waited and when one slipped through a set of bushes I shot him in the head. I turned to move around behind the fountain.

From anywhere in the yard you could not see the back of the fountain and my silenced rifle did not give me away. I was not all the way around when one of the men appeared. I fired into his chest and then his head as he staggered and fell. I held still as the two remaining men searched for me. I knew they were using high tech gear and smiled because the clothes I wore were designed to prevent that.

I wait patiently until one cautiously moved around the corner of my house. Even as he fell back dead I was moving forward. I saw the last man kneeling with a sonic listening device and turning towards me. He never got the chance to lift his rifle as the bullet from my rifle hit between his eyes.

I moved out and made sure each man was dead before dragging their bodies to the huge potted tree beside my house. I dug into the pot and pulled what looked like a drip line. The whole tree and pot lifted and moved away from my house. There was an exposed shaft going down with a ladder on one side.

I swiftly climbed down the ladder the few feet to the bottom and flipped a small switch and the bottom of the shaft opened and the ladder extended a few more feet down. I dropped down into the safe room and moved to Jen’s side. She smiled up at me weakly as I checked the IV. The large three liter bag was empty and I caressed her face, “How do you feel?”

She looked around, “Frightened, in pain and curious as one of your cats.”

I smiled and pulled the med scanner closer. I checked her and nodded at what I saw. I sat back, “We have a few hours. I am sorry Jen, this was my fault. They were after me.”

I looked around and sighed, “Many years ago and far away I was the commander for the emperor’s elite commandos. My name is Samuel Edward Winston Grey. When the politics began changing and prohibiting… nannies we, my team retired.”

Her eyes widen and I smiled, “Nanites are not the evil the government says they are. My team saw what was coming and spread out to distant less populated worlds. Shortly after that the purges began.”

Jen licked her lips, “What did you give me?”

I glanced at the empty bag, “over the years I have removed and filtered some of the nanites in my blood. I did not have the necessary medical equipment to stop you from drowning in your own blood so I gave you the three liters of nanites I kept in stasis.”

She closed her eyes, “What will they do?”

I smiled and touched her cheek, “Scrub nasty stuff out of our blood. Repair any damage short of a fatal wound and regenerate severed limbs.”

Jen opened her eyes to look at me, “How old are you?”

I grinned, “My age never bothered you before.”

She actually grinned, “I did not know you were a superman.”

I laughed, “Hardly super, I am just like most men. I do have a few enhancements but that was done long ago. I do not really have super strength or speed. What I have is years of training.”

Jen nodded, “So you could hold your breath for hours.”

I caressed her face, “You have dived with me. You know how long I can hold my breath.”

She looked around again, “and all this?”

I sighed as I looked around, “Jen, the emperor commanded me. All this was and is a precaution.”

I stood to open another cabinet and pulled out a bag. I slung it over my shoulder and knelt, “I can take you as far as Reef city.”

She looked at me hard, “You damn well better take me further than that.”

I grinned and carefully lifted and then stood her up, “You need to slowly climb the ladder, use your legs.”

I knelt and held her legs before lifting her straight up and put her feet on the bottom rung. She did as I told her and started up the ladder. I waited and then jumped and climbed out after her. I helped her into the house where I quickly packed a bag for her. I led her out and we crossed the island using a small trail she and I had used many times to visit friends.

I didn’t go to any of our friends, I led her to a small boathouse. I opened the door and slipped in before pulling on a string that went over a beam and dropped into the water. Air exploded from the water and a four person submersible rose up to the surface. Jen was grinning, “If I had known you had this…”

I smiled and jumped to the deck before opening the hatch and dropping our bags down inside. I reached out to help Jen climb on and then helped her through the hatch. I followed and closed the hatch before pushing her towards a bunk, “Go lay down.”

I moved around her and headed towards the front of the sub. I sat in the pilot seat and brought the ship alive. I ran a quick check and submerged before starting forward. I went deeper, dropping into the deep channel between the islands. It was a few hours before I heard Jen moving forward. I turned to glanced back, “You mess up the work I did on you and I will tan your butt.”

She grinned as she gingerly sat in the seat beside me, “The bones are set. I found the med scanner in the birth above mine.”

I smiled as I went back to navigating, “How are you feeling?”

She laughed, “Hungry.”

I nodded, “That is the nanites. You need to grab a ration from the supplies.”

She looked at me and smiled, “Sooo…”

I glanced at her and she was looking back, “You always avoid answering when I ask how old you are.”

I smiled, “I have been on Keys for twenty years.”

She laughed, “That is closer.”

I grinned, “I am self conscious.”

She stood slowly and turned, brushing my cheek, “In case I forget… Thanks.”

I smiled as she slowly moved towards the back. It was almost twenty hours before the city beacon began sounding. I slowed to drop to just above the ocean floor before turning slightly. I shut the exterior lights off and slowed even more. It was a long twenty minutes before the dark shape of the dome loomed out of the darkness.

I turned to the left and moved a little more before slowing. I drifted down to slip into the narrow sub tunnel and crept forward, turning on the single bow light. The end of the tunnel approached and I let the sub rise. We broke surface in a dimly lit room and I shut everything off. I stood and moved back to the bunks where I found Jen sleeping peacefully. I woke her and she opened sleepy eyes before smiling, “I was dreaming.”

I nodded towards the hatch, “time to go sleeping beauty.”

She sat up with a slight wince and turned to put her slipovers onto her feet. I climbed up and opened the hatch before dropping down and moving out of the way, “After you.”

She grinned and climbed up and out and I followed with our bags. I jumped lightly to the narrow walkway and turned to hold a hand out. Jen frowned but accepted my hand before stepping onto the walkway with me. I led her to a hatch and glanced back, “We will be in the chamber for a day before we can enter the city.”

Jen nodded and followed me into what was a tiny room with four fold down bunks. I set the bags on in a web rack before changing the pressure setting and moving to lie down. I closed my eyes and woke ten hours later with Jen rubbing my stomach, “You need to eat Samuel, you are growling.”

I grinned as I pulled her down against me, “Careful mermaid.”

Jen grinned, “a little cramped on the bunk for that sailor.”

I laughed and let her go before sitting up. I crossed to the shelf that held rations and grinned as I saw two missing. I glanced back as I grabbed one, “hungry were you?”

Jen nodded, “I do not know why.”

I turned and sat down before opening the ration, “Because the nannies had to rebuild torn tissue and broken bone. They are also multiplying in your body.”

Jen bit her lip as she sat across from me, “What will…”

I smiled as I started eating, “They are not going to send you secret messages or take over your body. What they will do is stop you from getting sick and healing you a lot faster then normal. Your ribs should be completely healed in another day or two. The damage to your lungs and tissue has already been repaired.”

Jen looked startled and then grinned, “Well I am breathing much better.”

I nodded and went back to the ration. When I finished I moved to put the refuse into the recycler. I stripped and applied a skin darkening agent and hair dye before going to sit beside Jen. She smiled, “So what are we doing here and where are we going?”

I took her hand, “We came here to see a man and get new papers. We are going on a trip.”

Jen grinned, “I like trips.”

I smiled, “I need to see people and use a star comm.”

Jen sighed, “And you think the authorities are against you.”

I caressed her face, “I am not listed as a criminal, the emperor protected us that far. The problem is these men chasing us. Their commando trained and that means someone wants me and possibly my team dead. Whoever it is, is either high up on the regent’s council or one of the dozen mega rich that support them. What that means is they control access to and from the authorities.”

Jen nodded and leaned against me, “We have hours before we get out. What are we going to do to pass the time?”

I looked at her and grinned as I turned to pull her down on the bed and kiss her. I glanced over Jen when the chamber alarm beeped. I kissed Jen’s cheek, “Time to go.”

A couple of minutes later I led the way out carrying our two bags. We came out the door of an old salvage shop and I led the way down the wide hallway. After crossing two domes I stopped a block from the coffee shop I was looking for. I watched for a couple of minutes and then led Jen down an alley and around back.

There appeared to be two doors into the back of the shop. I knocked on the door to the right and waited. A slim woman cracked the door open, “Yes?”

I smiled, “Tell Allen the sky is looking a little grey out today.”

She blinked, “Wait.”

She closed the door but a moment later it opened quickly. A tall well built man grinned at me as I nodded to Jen and followed her into the shop. The woman led us down a set of stairs while the man locked the door and followed behind. In the large room at the foot of the stairs I set our bags down and turned to clasp the hand of the man, “It is good to see you Del.”

He was grinning as he led the way to a wide work station, “I thought I might be seeing you. The cyfer comm is whispering your name constantly.”

I nodded, “they sent a team to my home.”

I glanced at the woman before looking at him, “We need papers and tickets off this rock and I need you to send that encrypted message I left with you.”

He blinked, “are you sure?”

I shrugged, “We have business to finish it seems.”

He sat and turned to his work station and his fingers danced over the controls for a couple of minutes. He finally turned and stood to cross to another machine I knew was restricted and forbidden to posses. He pulled out two crimson pass books and a stiff sheet of carbon poly fiber. He held them out, “I still owe you Commander.”

I smiled, “Just keep your head down.”

He grinned and nodded as I turned to Jen, “Time to go.”

Del led us out and I walked away without looking back. Jen cleared her throat, “Are you sure you can trust him?”

I smiled at her, “I am sure.”

She looked at me and then reached for her bag, “I better carry that.”

I looked at her and she grinned, “You know how independent women are here.”

I grinned back and handed her the bag. We moved openly through the domes and stopped at the banks of large elevators that went all the way up to the surface. We stood in a small crowd and waited for a scheduled elevator. When we came out onto the large platform above the surface of the ocean people broke into groups as they walked away.

I led Jen after me down the wide stairs that led to a floating platform. On the other side of the platform I saw the daily shuttle that would take us to Government Island. I stopped to show our new pass books and pay for the tickets before heading across to the boarding ladder. Jen seemed to move easily and followed me up and slipped into the window seat before I could say anything.

I shoved my bag into the luggage bin and reached for hers. It was thirty minutes before the shuttle finished filling and the hatch was closed. The shuttle lifted smoothly and began accelerating. The suborbital flight took forty minutes and then we were slowing to hover over the landing pad. We were in the middle of the pack when we got off the shuttle but I saw the two men watching everyone.

Jen swung her bag as she walked, talking about all the fun she had fishing. The men ignored us as we moved passed them. We took one of the ever present Rics and an hour later we were walking through the gate into the spaceport. I stopped us at the departure board and then went to the ticket window. At the purchase window I bought two business class tickets to Greg’s Paradise.

Three hour later we swam the tube into the starship. A day later the big ship began moving and I relaxed. Jen and I were in a tiny cabin and lay in the wide bunk together as the acceleration hit. It would only last for a few hours since the buffers would take that long to catch up. I had managed to slip Jen into sick bay and use a med scanner to check her ribs. They were almost completely healed.

Two weeks later the ship jumped out of the system and a week after that we dropped out at the sector hub. It was a huge transfer station on the outer edge of a dead system. Jen and I went into the huge transfer station carrying our bags and bought last minute tickets on a dead run cargo transport. While the other ship unloaded cargo for transshipment we were boarding the cargo transport.

Cattleman

I walked out on my wide porch and stretched as I looked around. It was peaceful here and my nearest neighbor was hours away. I turned at the chime of an arriving message on my comm. I walked back inside and opened the screen and frowned at the gibberish before narrowing my eyes as the cipher hit me. I read it and then wiped it before walking toward my bedroom.

I barely hesitated before opening a hidden panel and pulling out a large bag. I dressed quickly and started taking the weapons off the inside wall in the panel. I heard three almost silent beeps and paused before finishing what I was doing. I knelt and lifted the trap door in the floor inside the wall and slung the bag over my shoulder before turning to climb down.

I closed the panel before I was completely down and then the trap door. I went down another forty feet before I found the bottom. I reached to the left and pulled a pair of night glasses off a shelf. I turned and started walking down the narrow tunnel until I reached an intersection. I knew I should kept going but these assholes were on my ranch.

I sighed and set the bag down before turning right and walking towards a distant ladder. Beside the ladder was an ancient pad that was hardwired into several molecular cameras. I switched it on as I lifted the night glasses off. I watched the eight man team breach my house like it was in a textbook. Their shiny shuttle was behind the barn and corrals but it was empty.

I shook my head and went up and climbed out in a dark corner of the barn. I walked out back and into the shuttle before heading up to the shuttle bridge. I knelt beside the engineer panel and pulled it off. Inside I pulled several small molli circuit boards and crushed them under my heel. I left and moved back to the barn and went all the way to the front door.

I watched between two boards as two men walked to the barn as if this were their ranch. They walked through the big doors and into shadow and I pulled my silenced pistol and shot both in the head. I went to the back and slipped down into the tunnel and closed the trapdoor. I checked the cameras before grinning and turning to follow the tunnel back to the house.

I climbed the ladder and cracked the trapdoor before opening it. I climbed out and silently opened the panel and stepped out into the quiet house. I moved through it to the kitchen where I slipped up behind the two men at the back door. I pulled the two slim energy knives and struck. One went into a man under his ear and up into the brain and the other slipped up into the brain from beside the spine.

I turned and headed to the front as they fell and put the knives away before pulling my pistol. I was almost to the two men on each side of the door when one turned. I shot him between the eyes and then the other man in the side of the head as he spun. I holstered the pistol and reached to the rack beside the door for the large bore ranch rifle I was fond of.

I stood inside the door and to one side as I brought the rifle up. Two men were in the yard trying to use their encrypted comms but since I had broken the circuit boards on the shuttle they were not having much luck. Worse, what luck they did have was about to run out.

I aimed and fired and shifted and fired, the man’s head on the left exploded and the other man spun in time for me to shoot him in the throat and almost take his head off. I moved back and to the side as I glanced around. I knew there was probably a sniper and maybe two security men somewhere.

I moved back to the tunnel and climbed down and headed back to the barn. I climbed out and up into the loft before slowly and silently moving towards the wall facing the low ridge to the south. There was a board angled slightly leaving a small gap. I was not the team sniper but I did know my ranch.

I lay down and shifted until I was looking out. I relaxed and let my mind see the ridge as it had been for years. I shifted more as the difference struck me and lifted the rifle. When I squeezed the trigger there was a scrapping sound from the barn door. The shot echoed and crashed and then the loft floor splintered as rounds tore it apart searching for me.

I had seen the explosion of red on the ridge and knew the sniper was dead or seriously injured. I half rolled onto my side as I quietly lay the rifle down and pulled my pistol. A head peeked over the loft a few feet from the ladder which I had ignored. I fired and the head jerked as the back blew apart. The floor was being ripped apart as the man’s partner started a searching pattern.

I reached out and grabbed my rifle before tossing it several feet away. The fire from below shifted and I came to my feet and moved towards the loft edge. I did not even slow as I stepped off and dropped while twisting. The commando turned, his weapon shifting as I dropped. I fired four times through his upper chest and head before landing.

I rolled and came to my feet before walking to the man to make sure he was dead. He was down and gasping with blood bubbling up out of his mouth. I shot him between the eyes before heading towards the tunnel. I closed it after me and went to collect my bag before following the long tunnel. The first rest and vent station was twelve kilometers away.

A day and thirty kilometers away I climbed another ladder into what looked like a cave. An old hoverbed jeep sat in the middle and I checked it carefully before connecting the power supply. I sat my bag on the other seat and pulled my silenced assault rifle out. I checked and loaded it before setting it on the other seat with my bag and starting the jeep.

I pulled out slowly and started heading east using gullies and small groups of trees. I slipped across streams and rivers where it was shallow. It was evening when I reached the really wide river. I started across but the river was easily two miles wide and slow moving. When I reached the middle the ripples and breaking water began hitting the bottom of the jeep and splashing up the sides.

The jeep rocked and started bucking as I went through rougher water. Two men in new clothes were waiting in a new jeep as I drove out, one held an assault rifle. I smiled as I stopped, “that was fun.”

They looked at me and smiled, the younger of the two nodded back the way I had come, “This is private property.”

I smiled, “This is a public route.”

He looked at me for a long time, “Where you headed stranger?”

I knew right then they were not from here. I smiled, “north of the port about a day to visit my brother.”

They looked at each other before shrugging. I was watching though and one made a tiny gesture. I pulled my silenced pistol and shot the closest in the side of the head as the other rolled out of the jeep. I pulled a small ball from the bag and tossed it as he came up with his rifle. He froze when he saw the ball and turned to dive. It was to late and sparking energy exploded from the ball and engulfed him.

I watched as he tried to scream as he was suddenly flash frozen. I grabbed my rifle and climbed out and walked to the other jeep. I walked around and lifted the froze body and set it in before reaching in and setting the lift to minium. I shoved the jeep towards the steep bank down into the river. I watched as it hit and kept going as water began lapping at the bottom.

I glanced around and moved towards the brush. I was in a small gully when the four new jeeps screamed in to stop beside my jeep. I was watching from a crack between two large rocks. I waited until they were all out looking around like a bunch of green recruits. I fired and started taking them out and it was a second before they reacted and by then three were dead.

I slid back and down before moving silently. I headed towards the river using the gully and turned at the riverbank. I set my rifle down and slid into the grass, two minutes later I was watching two commandoes using hand signs. I shook my head and lifted up as my energy knives came out. When I struck one man was just turning to look back.

The last thing he saw was the flash as my energy knife stabbed through his eye and into his brain. My other knife struck out and under his partner’s ear and into his brain. They both spasmed and jerked as I shifted and moved to the side and into a thick bush called fire throne. I stayed on the ground as I moved under it and away. I found another man several minutes later, he was crouching and looking around nervously.

This time I aimed my pistol from only five paces and squeezed the trigger. When his head exploded I started moving but in a different pattern. I found the next man watching possible routes around the area where a stalker might approach. He was prone under a thick bush and I hesitated and then turned and slid back and further away. I found his partner five meters behind him under another bush.

I moved slowly and slid up until I was almost to him. I lifted slightly and pulled a energy knife before moving. The blade slide through his spine and into his heart and he jerked and tried to turn to see me. I pulled the blade out and reached up to slid it in under his ear. I glanced past him as I pulled my pistol and saw his partner turning to look back angrily.

I brought the pistol up as he rolled and tried to bring his rifle around. It became entangled in the brush and his eyes went wide before I fired. I slipped out of the bush and went to pick up my rifle. I climbed into my jeep and started off and across towards a set of distant trees. I stayed in the trees or the deeper gullies, the rest of the rivers or streams were easier to cross.

I had angled to the north and a few days later went past the port city a hundred kilometers to the north. I gradually started turning south until I was almost east of the city. I turned and drove in during the early evening. All the drinking saloons were wide open and I walked into a small eatery carrying my bag.

I grinned at the large bearish man waiting the tables as I sat. He grinned and walked across the room almost delicately, “James!”

I gestured, “ask your lovely wife if she would make me something Tiny.”

He rubbed his hands together, “I will do it myself.”

I laughed, “I do not think so, your cooking tastes bad and Maria has the touch of a goddess.”

He laughed as several of the other diners snickered. I made a small gestured and he nodded before going to the back. After a large dinner he led me through the kitchen and into a nice apartment. I turned when Maria walked in and hugged her before she glanced at Tiny, “what do you need?”

I looked at both of them, “I have commandoes hunting me. I need the small case I left with you.”

She turned and Tiny moved a panel before she knelt and reached into what seemed like an empty space. Her hand came out of the class one holo with an almost tiny metal case. She gave it to me and I hesitated before opening it and pulling out an ID. I nodded to the two before turning towards the back door, “stay safe.”

I caught a ride with a night watch and he dropped me off a few miles from the port. I walked the rest of the way and used the new ID to enter a warehouse just off the port. Everyone was gone for the day since it was the middle of the night. The warehouse was one of many that supplied the meat for shipments off planet. I went down and followed the service tunnel beside the conveyer.

When I came up out of the freezing tunnel I was in a port warehouse. I headed up a side stair until I was on a catwalk and followed it to the shadowy back corner. I glanced around before climbing over the rail and balancing on a beam. I walked across into blackness until I felt the beam. I balanced carefully before shifting around it. Suddenly there was a dim light and I sighed in relief.

I used the beam to walk the few feet to the small platform surrounded by a holograph. I set my bag down and dropped the wall cot down before stretching out. Now the hard part would begin, I lay there thinking and finally closed my eyes. Over the next two weeks I worked beside other port cargo handlers. There was at least two teams of commandoes moving around the port at any time.

The ship I needed arrived and started off loading. Each trip down I took a moment to speak with the ship cargo master. On the last day I brought my bag out of hiding. I was unloading when the team of commandoes appeared suddenly. They ignored me as they began to check each crate of meat. I slipped by the cargo master as he scowled and argued with the commandoes.

Two hours and the shuttle lifted and a week later we headed out of the system. I got off at the sector hub and paid another cargo master to join the crew for another trip.

Timberland

I glanced at the secure comm screen when it beeped. I frowned at the encrypted message but it was one I had created and knew by heart. I stood and crossed to do a little checking and almost cussed. Not only was there several teams already on the planet but someone had hacked the system and deactivated my snoops. I checked the sats and looked around before heading back to my bedroom.

I lived on a ridge and underground but someone had recon sats up over me. I stripped and washed before slipping into a new dark camouflage combat suit. The weapons rig was old and well worn and I caressed the belt as I put it on. I was comms and electronic surveillance unlike the others in my team, that did not mean I did not know how to fight, the best had trained me.

I turned at an echo beep and moved to the small corner section. I watched as a shuttle approached my ridge and dropped down in the small clearing at the crest. I smiled and flipped a switch, “enjoy the comm black out assholes.”

I typed in a few commands and knew the recon sats had just died. I climbed the steps and came out behind a huge old evergreen. I slipped into the woods and started for the shuttle. I moved slowly before kneeling behind a thick tree with heavy hanging branches. I glanced at the point man as he went past me way to fast. The second and third man followed like ducks in a pond.

As the forth and last man in this team began to pass he turned his head and looked straight at me as I aimed. I fired as his eyes widened and the crack of the round was the only thing heard. I shifted as the team stopped and knelt and shot the third man through the back of his head. I shifted again as the point man and the second man spun.

My next round went through the second man’s throat as he searched for me and then I shot the point man as he went prone. I dropped and began to crawl to the east using a slight gully and after a couple hundred meters stopped. I listened for several minutes before moving out of the gully and turned to crawl to the northwest. I moved into a depression as a small flock of huge butterfly birds drifted over.

I saw the team a moment later, they were watching every tree or bush. I moved very slow and changed the setting on my rifle so the rounds were subsonic. This time there was no crack as I shot the rear man providing security. Of course he made sounds when he fell but I was already squeezing the trigger again. I took the third and forth man as they went to the ground.

I waited and lay still for long agonizing minutes. I grinned when the third team emerged and murmured to myself, “all this for a comms specialist.”

They were spread out and moving slowly but would pass by me. I waited until they had gone by before taking them, one, two, three four. I waited several minutes before turning to crawl towards where I knew the shuttle had to have landed. I moved slowly where the perimeter should be. I killed the first hidden sentry when he lifted to look over a branch.

The second was a halfway around the landing site and up in a tree. The round that killed him also knocked him off the branch so he crashed to the ground. I did not move and waited for the last two, I knew they would be searching for any movement. It was ten minutes before they moved and I had them. I shot the first in the back of the head and the second between the eyes.

Before their bodies hit the ground I was up and moving. I went through the shuttle hatch with my rifle up and shot the crew chief and the engineer as I kept going. I went straight through and up before stopping at a door as I heard the engines start. I put six tiny plastic disks on the door before I stepped back. The door shimmered before suddenly shattering and I went through with my rifle ready.

I shot the copilot as he spun with a pistol in his hand and then the pilot as he grabbed for his pistol. I moved forward and reached out to shut everything down before leaving. In the transport area I grabbed a screen from the crew chiefs station and counted names. I dropped it and walked out and headed back to my home. I looked around and sighed before grabbing my bag and leaving.

With the sats down I had a little time before someone decided to put a kinetic strike on my home. I moved through the alien forest easily since I had lived here so long. It was dark when I reached the ridge I needed. The cave was behind a curtain of vines and I started cutting them away. I moved in carefully with my rifle ready incase a Jaberwalky was waiting.

The hover jeep was where I had left it and I started reattaching power leads and the power supply. I tossed my bag in the other seat and slid in behind the wheel. I grinned as it started up and slowly lifted before moving forward. I stopped just inside the opening and opened a panel on the dash.

I typed a few commands and grinned before entering a few more that would fry the new sats and send the AI aboard the corvette monitoring them into a mental breakdown. I pulled out and began driving through the dark forest with the lights off. I was a week away from the port with nothing but forest between us.

The huge lumber company town of Timber was to the north of the port. I left the jeep in a stand of young trees and moved into town well after the mid watch. The shop I was looking for was still there and I went around to the back door. I bypassed the alarm and slipped the lock before opening the door and walking in.

I looked around the back office and moved to the large ornate desk in one corner. I pulled a tiny data stick and started the desk comp after inserting the stick into the data slot. The holo screen flickered and then brightened as I started using back doors to look for ships. The one I settled on would not be here for another week and would spend three days loading the processed lumber.

I looked at everything before sending an encrypted message to the ship’s first officer. I shut everything down and left, locking and resetting the alarm after me. I used the night to make a few... discrete purchases. The week was spent avoiding several random patrols of commandoes. Their sats were back up but the corvette AI was silent.

I used old back door programs to monitor those looking for me. The day the first shuttle from the ship I was waiting for landed I was ready. As the shuttle began loading several ship crew left and headed into town. I was waiting for one of them and he handed me his papers.

It took me a couple of minutes to clone the ident and the rest before I gave everything back with a slip of paper and several very large credit chits, “try Mason’s lumber camp. They need a good cook.”

He grinned and waved as he looked on the paper for the location of the jeep before leaving. I walked the other way and headed to a drinking establishment. Three days I pretended to drink before shouldering my bag and heading towards the port. The fake ident got me onto the field but halfway to the loading shuttle four commandoes boxed me in between two vehicles.

I had put my weapons in my bag and looked at the commandoes, “can I help you?”

The team leader sneered as he walked to me with the others closing, “we are really tired of this rock. If you are not the asshole we want you are in for a world of hurt.”

I sighed and dropped the bag at the last second. I jabbed straight into the leader’s throat and spun in a wheelhouse kick that sent another man crashing into the third. I blocked a punch and caught the hand before twisting it and snapping a kick that broke his knee. I spun and stepped before kicking into the head of the third man as he tried to point his weapon.

I moved back and stomped down to crush the skull of the last man before moving to the second. I knelt and struck him in the throat before looking around. I started moving the bodies and stuffing them into one of the two vehicles they had used. I picked up my bag and pulled out a small silenced pistol before I started walking towards the shuttle again.

I was almost to the shuttle and the waiting crew chief when two commandoes walked off and looked at me. One lifted his rifle and smiled, “Herman Schmitt you are under...”

I lifted the pistol and shot him between the eyes before pointing at the other man. He froze and licked his lips as I nodded to the crew chief before looking into his eyes, “it is Sergeant Major Schmitt and I have imperial immunity.”

He looked around, “the council...”

I growled and stepped closer, “does not have the legal authority to overrule the emperor. The counsel may have stripped him of his duties but not his power.”

I moved around him and took his rifle before backing into the shuttle, “Think about your oath, it was to the emperor and not the council. I do not know why the council has decided to come after us now but they made a mistake. We are the emperor’s men to the core. You tell them to watch their back because we are coming for them now.”

The ramp started to close and I pulled a comp to enter a command. Every comm the commandoes used screamed before starting to smoke. This freighter had a small crew and most of the cargo was handled by the ship’s AI. I changed ship at the first hub and took a passenger transport.

Winterland

I stepped out of the hot shower and glanced at the blinking message on the screen. I thought of the hot tourist that I had spent the night with and went to open the message. I frowned at the encryption before it hit me and I glanced around. I read it slowly, deciphering it in my mind. I erased the message using a scrubber before sending a short message and headed to my bedroom.

I almost hit myself for not seeing all the military types around the lodge wearing civilian clothes. I moved past my closet and pushed against the wall. The whole thing from the closet to the corner slid back and into the wall. I looked around before stepping in and starting down the ladder. I hit a switched and the wall above moved back into place.

I was in a small brightly lit room and reached out to pull clothes off a shelf. I dressed and then added weapons before grabbing the long case and the bag. I turned and touched a piece of the shelf and the end wall opened to reveal and dark space. I stepped in and climbed down before slowly stepping out in the sub basement garage. I started to move and froze at a slight sound.

I set the case and bag down before moving to the side in the shadows. I used the snow runners to cover me as I worked my way around the garage. I killed the first man as he knelt beside a workbench with his rifle up. I moved into him and slid the blade of a energy knife under his ear and into his brain. I lowered his body quietly before moving on.

The second was up high on a snow stand that should not have been put together inside. I climbed up and reached around to pull him back as my knife went in at the base of his skull. He jerked and spasmed as I set his rifle aside and silently moved down.

The third man was next to the garage door hidden beside a thick beam. I stayed next to the wall as I crept up and moved. I brought my knife around and into his throat under his chin, it struck in and up to hit his brain. I moved to hold him and slowly lower him to the floor. It took me a couple of minutes to find the last man.

One of the wall vents was wide open and in the winter we did not do that. I changed to my silenced pistol as I moved along the wall and turned at the last second as I flipped a laser sight on. I aimed at the same time and the man laying in the vent looked startled with his weapon laying on the vent floor. I shot him between the eyes before heading back to my case and bag.

I headed across to my personal snow runner and tied the case and pack on. I took a breath before bypassing the door monitor and opening it. I moved the runner out and closed the door before resetting the monitor. As I left the lodge area I used a hidden way that kept me from sight until I was in the trees.

I headed out and around before starting along a route I had planned years before. The heavy storm struck several hours later and I slowed before changing direction toward one of the emergency shelters I had scouted. It was still an hour before I rode under the overhang and stopped. I moved the runner back behind some large rocks.

I slipped between boulders and ducked into the cave opening. I used a light to look around for animals before moving to the side and sitting on a shelf of rock. I was thinking ahead to what I might find at the port. I was leaning back and napping when I woke to a slight difference outside.

I moved up and into a crack to look out a small hole. It was several minutes before I saw the first man move out of the thick snow fall. He was wearing white camouflage with his rifle up. I fired my silenced pistol and his head snapped back as he fell. Less then a second later another man appeared to one side of the first.
He kept moving and did not even see his downed man. I shot him in the head before slipping down and moving out of the cave. I crawled through the rocks and boulders outside before slipping into the falling snow. I crawled to the second man’s body and laid beside him as I searched through the wall of snow.

I was wearing thermal glasses but they only helped a little. The third man appeared next to the first man and knelt as he reached out to check him. I aimed and fired and he dropped with a hole through his head. Searching fire ripped through the snow but it went over and around me. I shifted slighting and used the sounds to fix the other man’s position.

My suit kept my body heat from being seen and a few minutes later five men rushed out of the storm. It was like shooting targets at a fair. I fired rapidly into each man before shifting to the next and they never even knew where I was. I knew I could not stay and moved back to the snow runner. I pulled out and used the compass to guide me as I moved away slowly.

It was less then thirty minutes before I heard the explosion behind me and knew they had used a small kinetic strike. I continued to move, knowing they would not be able to track me while the blizzard covered me. It was almost twelve hours before the storm began to pass. I was exhausted and headed towards another preselected emergency shelter.

I brought out rations after pulling into a large cave and sat back to eat as I thought. I pulled my emergency blanket out and turned around to lay on the runner seat. I woke to darkness and listened for several minutes before sitting up. I folded the blanket up and put it away before eating again.

I pulled out into the night and headed towards the trail I had strayed from during the storm. I rode all night and then most of the next day. It was twilight when I saw the flash of a shuttle landing on the ridge ahead. I stopped and thought before stepping off the runner. I shouldered my bag and picked up the case.

I turned to move quickly towards the ridge at an angle using low ground. When I climbed the ridge it was up a chimney and out of a gully. I could see the shuttle down the ridge but there were no guards. I was laid out in a slight depression and slowly opened the case. I pulled out the sniper rifle and checked it before loading it.

I turned to carefully begin a search for the sniper I knew they would have. It was several minutes before I saw them. The sniper was searching the area by my runner and his spotter was scanning the whole area in front of them. I shook my head before making another check. I aimed and fired before shifting as the spotter twisted and fired again.

Both bodies jerked and twitched as they died and I turned to start searching. It did not take long to find both teams. I planned my shots and took a breath before aiming at the first. At a thousand yards the only thing they would hear was the crack of the bullet. I knew that might be enough for them to find but squeezed the trigger.

It took five seconds to kill all eight men. It was like they had never been in combat and did not know what to do. I slipped the rifle back into the case before shouldering my bag as I stood. I started down the ridge and climbed through the personnel hatch. I glanced around before heading towards the shuttle bridge.

When the crew chief stepped out of the small engineering room I shot him between the eyes with my pistol. I checked inside and then climbed to the after deck behind the bridge. They were so lax they had left the bridge hatch open and I stepped in. I shot the copilot as he turned and then the pilot as he lunged for a pistol.

I pulled their bodies out and sat in the pilot’s seat before starting a check of the systems. I lifted the shuttle and turned it before I started to accelerate. I stayed just above the tree tops as I followed the low ground towards the port. All night I flew until the bright starport landing lights were visible in the distance.

I slowed and turned the shuttle before carefully setting it down in a gully with trees all around it. This had just cut off three days of my trip and now I needed a shuttle up to a ship. I shut everything down before standing and shouldering my bag. I picked up my rifle case and went down to open a small personal hatch before dropping to the ground.

I glanced around before starting to wade through the snow. I moved slowly and kept stopping to scan the way ahead. From the edge of the tree line facing the port I knelt to make another scan. This time I used the rifle as I slowly checked the high points. I spotted the two sniper teams easily and shook my head at how sloppy they were.

Instead of killing them I continued to look and grinned when I found the third team, they were much better. I thought and looked at the area I had to cross before grinning and putting the rifle away. A sniper had to be able to move unseen just as a recon man needed to. I slipped the strap for my bag over one foot and held the case under my hand as I brought the hood over my head.

I began to crawl inch by inch under the snow, pushing the case and pulling my bag. Time stretched out and it grew dark again. I continued to move and as the sun began to rise I finally reached the point I needed. I slowly stood up and out of the snow. I was against the wall beside a small utility door and slowly shouldered my bag.

I lifted the case and moved to the side to pick the lock on the door. I slipped in and pulled my pistol before starting to walk through the maintenance area. I holstered the pistol and opened my bag to pull out a long fur coat that was very thin and supple. I brushed it carefully before putting it on and shouldering the bag.

I walked the rear hallways until I was behind the ticketing area. I accessed the terminal info from a supervisor station and selected a liner that was getting ready to leave. The last shuttle up was in a few hours so I added my name on the flight manifest using an old cover ID. I purchased a ticket for the liner and then went looking for an employee bathroom.

I stripped and washed in a sink before adding a skin lighting agent. I slipped in colored eye lens that would scan the ID I had used. Next was a special hair dye that changed my black hair to blonde. I cleaned up and disposed of everything left over before shouldering my bag.

I knew my weapons would pass the liner scans so did not bother trying to hide them, the rifle case would look like a snow board case anyway. I used the maintenance hallway to bypass the regular port and security checkpoints. I stepped out close to the gate that was loading the last shuttle and checked in before boarding.

It was a tense flight up and I did not relax until the liner began to move. I already had a plan to change ships at the next hub so I just needed to wait.

Sahara

David

I straightened the expensive suit and smiled at the beautiful women in bed watching me, “thanks for last night ladies.”

The twins grinned and one waved, “you coming back to night?”

I smiled, “you have a shuttle to catch this afternoon remember?”

She blinked and her sister bumped her shoulder, “dumb blonde.”

They laughed as I headed for the door. As I walked I slipped on the expensive glasses that hid my grey eyes. I touched my small comm and accessed my messages. I stopped as the coded text scrolled down on the inside lens of the glasses. I looked at it before erasing the message. I glanced around me before moving to a wall comm I input a number and waited before cursing, “damn it Adam!”

I shut it off before walking away fast as I thought. I did not bother returning to my apartment and headed across the city. I walked into a clothing shop and crossed to the counter, “I need a fast vehicle and our bags Victor.”

The old man glanced around, “you said you would not need them.”

I glanced at the door, “things change.”

He smiled, “than I can repay my father’s debt.”

He turned and started for a back door, “come.”

I followed him through a room filled with automated sewing machines and stopped beside a picture on the wall. The man in the picture had his arm around a stunning woman with an ocean view behind him. Victor pulled the picture off the wall, “open.”

There was a click as the wall split and slid apart. I moved past him to grab the two large bags, “the vehicle?”

Victor grinned as he held a tiny fob up, “a Jaguar class flyer is parked behind the shop.”

I was stripping and left the expensive suit as I pulled a clean set of camouflage utilities out of one bag and started dressing. I added the combat vest with a thigh holster and then put the stubby assault rifle together. I loaded the pistol and rifle before slipping the long bladed energy knife into the left thigh sheath. The sling for the rifle went over my head and one shoulder. I closed the bag and shouldered it before grabbing the other.

I stood and smiled at Victor, “give me a day and report the vehicle stolen. If everything goes okay I will try to leave it at the starport.”

He nodded and I walked out the back door. I set the two bags in the passenger seat before starting the flyer. I lifted and turned the vehicle before starting out of the city. I kept to the traffic lanes and the speed limit until I was out of the city. I set down and opened the electronics panel to remove the AI cube. I lifted to just above the ground as I accelerated and turned to the southeast.

I was skimming the dunes at well over nine hundred kilometers an hour and knew it would still take me hours to reach the archeology site. It was getting dark when my comm clicked and crackled, “Dexter?”

I shook my head as I answered, “get off the comm Wizard.”

“We have hunters after us.”

I sighed, “I am almost there, come to me.”

I was flying using my glasses in the thermal mode to see the dunes ahead. Ten minutes later I slowed and spun to the south to skirt the ruins. I dropped to just above the ground and a few minutes later settled to the ground. I opened a door and stepped out before glancing around and grabbing the bags and walking towards a set of ruins.

I knelt at a corner, “Adam.”

My brother cleared his throat, “about time.”

I smiled, “if you had kept your comm on this would not happen.”

He walked around the corner with a slim woman following, “I was busy.”

I tossed one of the bags, “get dressed, the boss sent the message.”

Adam

I glanced across at Ally as she carefully removed the last few layers of dirt using a brush. The others crowded around to watch as she sat back on her heels, “okay take vids and then carefully begin removing the dirt around it. We will try to take it out in the morning.”

The five thousand year old stone chest was carved with glyphs and symbols. She stood and turned to smile as she crossed to me and take my hand, “you have a good eye.”

I let her pull me out of the wide central set of ruins and walked beside her, “right now my eye is on you.”

She grinned and glanced around before pressing against me and kissing me passionately. I held her until she pulled back with a sigh, “I have a hour or two.”

I grinned and pulled her after me and through the ruins towards the east. Just before we exited the ruins I turned in at a set with high, thick walls. After twisting and turning through rooms and a hall we stepped into a large tarp covered room. Ally grinned as she pulled me around and kissed me, “You are a strange man.”

I held her and smiled, “why? Because I found this set of ruins and I am not a scientist?”

She shook her head, “no. Because you respect the find and at the same time use it to make your home.”

I grinned and started to kiss her when I heard the sound of a shuttle passing over. I lifted my head and listen, “are you expecting someone in a shuttle?”
Ally shook her head, “we just received our bi weekly supplies.”

I slipped the safety off the holster and took her hand, “I think...”
I froze as our site comms gave off loud static. I looked at her and almost cursed before pulling her after me as I headed out. Outside I looked around before heading north west and deeper into the ruins, “I need to tell you something.”

I pulled her into a set of ruins and across and then around and in between two walls. I held her as I listened and finally looked at her, “a long time ago the emperor had elite soldiers to protect him and his government. When he died his son had a regency council to help him.”

Ally nodded, “I know the story...”

I squeezed her arm, “just listen. The regency council made sure they would never lose power which is why they are still in power now. The new emperor though still commanded his soldiers, his commandoes. One of the things that helped them was enhancements and nanites. The council became afraid of his soldiers and started rumors. It was a campaign to make the public fear nanites and then they were going to go after the soldiers.”

I took a breath and a moment to listen before looking at her, “the emperor’s best team warned him but it was to late to stop what was happening. He sent us away and protected us as we had always protected him.”

Ally turned me to look at her, “Us?”

I smiled, “I have been here over twenty years. I actually found this city a couple of decades ago.”

I listened, “my name is Adam Sinclare and I was a sergeant in commander Grey’s team.”

She frowned, “but I met your brother.”

I nodded, “David was the other security man for the team.”

I touched her face, “I think the shuttle and now the comm mean someone has come for me.”

She growled, “not with me here.”

I touched her lips and turned my head as I heard something. I pulled my pistol and waited, the black uniform of the commando stood out as he started to walk past the wall. I fired as I stepped out and he dropped, I continued towards the entry and shot the second man lifting a rifle through the throat and head. I continued moving and stepped out to shoot a third man as he was moving from the corner.

I kept moving straight across and into another set of ruins before turning to the left and moving along the wall. I stopped at a small hole and waited until the fourth man moved past as he headed towards the entrance where one of the men lay. I aimed and shot through his head before going back the way I had come. I went to the man by the door and looked at the rifle before leaving it.

It was bio coded so I could not use it. His silenced pistol was another story and I took it and the two spare magazines. I went to the other two and took their spares before going to get Ally. She was white faced as I took her hand, “you can still stay out of it.”

She shook her head and knelt to take the dead man’s pistol, “I am coming with you.”
I nodded as I thought, “David will be coming.”

Ally looked at me, “how do you know?”

I smiled as I started pulling her after me, “because I know my brother. He may dress nice and look polished but that is just surface flash.”

I glanced around before pulling her out and heading south as the sun set. I knew I would have to risk a call and opened my comm, “Dexter.”

“Get off the comm Wizard.”

I smiled, ““We have hunters after us.”

“I am almost there, come to me.”

I knew that meant the southern edge of the ruins. I knelt at the very edge of the ruins and waited with Ally behind me. I heard the flyer minutes later and after it landed I heard a door and a minute later, “Adam.”

I cleared my throat as I stood, “about time.”

“If you had kept you comm on this would not happen.”

I walked around the corner with Ally following, “I was busy.”

David tossed my bag, “get dressed, the boss sent the message.”

I shook my head as I started to strip, “you remember Ally?”

He glanced at her, “yeah.”

I started pulling clothes and equipment out of my bag, “she is going with us.”

He sighed, “it had to happen.”

I grinned as I dressed and started slipping weapons into place, “we going to take their shuttle?”

David chuckled, “works for me.”

I settled my rifle and the bag and looked at Ally, “stay behind us okay?”

She nodded and I turned to head northeast with my brother beside me. He drifted into the shadows across the narrow lane and when we reached the eastern edge of the ruins we moved further apart. We found the shuttle sitting between two large dunes. I knelt and watched as David moved towards it. I lifted my rifle when I saw movement and aimed and fired quickly.

The silenced round barely had time to crack before exploding through the sniper’s head. Three men rose out of the sand and my brother killed two before I killed the last with two rounds through his chest. I rose and led Ally down towards the shuttle as David bypassed the personal hatch. When I reached the hatch I continued to move as it slid aside.

I moved in and to the side as he followed. I covered the cargo area as David headed towards the front. I gestured to Ally and whispered, “stay here.”

I rose and followed David to the ladder that went up to the bridge. He climbed silently and let his rifle hang as he pulled his pistol. He moved over the edge and I went up quickly and went past him, ignoring the body on the deck. I released my rife to let it drop onto its sling as I pulled my pistol. I stopped beside the shuttle bridge hatch and a moment later my brother was attaching an pulse override.

As it slid open I began to move and shot the first man that appeared, the other turned from the command seat and I put three bullets into him before going to the engineer’s console, “they tried to lock us out.”

David snorted as he went to the command seat. I grinned when I rebooted the system and he started the reactor. I went back to the ladder, “Ally, close the hatch and come up here!”

I watched as she did what I asked and led her back onto the bridge. David grinned from the command seat, “I killed the sats.”

I pushed Ally towards the copilot seat as I sat in the engineers, “are you sure?”

David snorted as he lifted the shuttle, “I may not be Herman but I do know basic surveillance commands.”

I shook my head, “just get us to the port.”

He shook his head, “we are not going to the port.”

I glanced at him as he accelerated and pointed the shuttle nose towards the sky, “what are we going to do?”

He grinned, “borrow a private yacht.”

I sighed, “this better work or I am going to kick your ass.”

David grinned at Ally, “he always says that.”

She smiled as she glanced at me, “he does not bite hard.”

He laughed as I changed a setting to keep the shuttle in stealth mode, “it is his fist I have to worry about.”

It was thirty minutes before we were approaching the yacht. An hour later we were heading out of the system and a week after that we were at a hub changing to a freighter.

Brazilia

I watched the large building implode and grinned at the large man beside me, “I told you it would not harm the other buildings.”

He grinned back before starting to walk towards his construction bosses. I turned to start disconnecting the fancy demo control board and slipped it into the case. I checked everything twice before closing it and standing, this job was finished but I had another job to plan. I walked to my large hover truck and slipped in as my comm went off.

I shook my head, I had more business than I could handle. I pulled the comm out as I reached out to start the vehicle and froze when I saw the encrypted message. I glanced around before climbing out and walking away. I was a block away before I saw the men following, they would close in fast now that I was out and moving.

I had been through all these buildings to check them before I dropped the other so I knew what to do. I walked into one that had several litigators but used a lift to take me to the roof. The crowd that had been watching the building being destroyed was breaking up as I headed towards the far corner. I knew someone had used and kept an old power glider.

I looked back but no one could see me as I knelt and slipped into the harness. I extended the wings and switched on the four small anti gravs before running towards the edge of the roof and leaping. I banked and rose higher as the warm air caught the wings. I used other buildings to block and protect me from the men on the ground and headed towards the far side of the city.

It was an hour before I dove towards the jungle and a huge vine covered tree. I flared the wings at the last moment and snapped them in. I dropped a couple of feet and crouched on the huge branch as I tore the harness off. I dropped the glider and moved to the trunk before dropping and climbing down using a thick vine. Once I was on the ground I moved into the thick jungle another kilometer.

The small water fall fell from a ten meter cliff and I walked towards it before checking around me. I waded into the pool and under the falling water before stepping out onto a moss covered floor. I walked towards the back of the cave and put my hand on a crystal. A minute later the back wall vanished and I walked into the carven room.

I did not bother waiting and started stripping as I walked towards the shelves on the other side of the room. I stopped beside a large screen to flip a couple of switches before pulling the camouflage uniform on. I added the combat harness and then the weapons. I checked and reconfigured the bag into a pack and turned to leave. I stopped at the dozen dots closing with the center of large screen.

I shook my head as I stopped beside the door leading out and touched a plate. I could hear the shattering explosions ripping and shredding the men and jungle apart. I walked out and the door closed as I went back through the falling water and turned to head deeper into the jungle. Five minutes later I was pulling the river pod out on another larger river.

I slipped in and closed the hatch before letting it submerge as it headed down river. I was thinking the whole time, it had been years and they were just coming for me. Something must have changed if the council was openly defying the emperor’s written commands. I watched the sonar as the pod glided along above the river bottom and relaxed.

It took two days for the pod to reach San Miguel and I took control to move it under a wharf before coming up. I stood and tossed my bag up onto the beam before jumping and pulling myself up. I watched a minute later as the pod sank and then grabbed my bag before moving along the narrow walkway. This was known to those that used it as Smugglers Wharf.

I followed the walk to the left and climbed a set of stairs before shouldering my pack. It took me a couple of hours to reach the small shop I needed and walk in. The colorful display of birds screamed and squawked as I headed towards the counter, “Juan.”

The ancient looking man smiled and pushed the young woman away, “senior Jeff.”

I smiled, “a great granddaughter?”

He grinned, “my lover.”

I laughed and reached out to shake his hand. I glanced at the girl vanishing through the back door, “I need the bag and for you to send the message I left with you.”

He frowned, “are you sure?”

I nodded, “make sure you use another comm so they do not track it back to you.”

He grinned, “I know just the place.”

He turned and slapped the wall and I blinked as it slid open. He pulled the pack out and pushed it towards me, “what else can I do?”

I turned to head towards the door, “forget I was here and take your woman to bed.”

He laughed as I walked out and started walking. I stopped in an alley to strip and put the uniform and most of the weapons into my large bag. From the small bag I pulled out a set of clothes and dressed. When I started walking again people smiled and bowed. It took several hours to walk across the city and then I stopped at a small automated hostel to rent a room.

In the room I removed the comp panel and attached the small box like Herman had taught me. I watched the information and smiled before purchasing a liner ticket to Timbutoo on a liner leaving in a week. I removed the box and put the panel back on the comp before leaving. My next stop was a religious retreat close to the starport. I signed in and went to a sparse cell before relaxing and closing my eyes.

What I saw over the next week angered me but I kept in character as I watched the two teams of commandoes searching for me. The night before my scheduled shuttle I slipped out. It was not hard to find the construction site demo magazine and take what I needed. The hard part was slipping into the port and out to the two assault shuttles, after that it was the eight parked vehicles left unguarded.

I returned and changed before sitting to wait. I left early and went through the port carrying my bag. I was walking towards the passenger loading gate when the explosions started. That brought the policia and then a team of commandoes that had managed to escape death. I set my bag down next to the loading gate doorway and walked across to the bathroom.

The commandoes were moving around as I stopped and turned to watch. When one looked towards me and our eyes met I turned and pushed into the bathroom. I crossed to the sink and washed my hands and glanced into the mirror as the commando stepped in. I moved to the side and pushed my hands under the dryer as he walked across the room with a swagger, “ID and papers.”

I looked at my hands to check them and struck suddenly and without warning. I hit his throat and crushed the windpipe before moving into him and snapping a hand down around the pistol he was trying to pull. My other hand struck again in a palm strike to his nose and his head snapped back. I held his body as he spasmed and convulsed and moved him into one of the fresher booths.

I sat him on the toilet and let him lean against a wall. I closed the door and moved into the first fresher booth to wait. It was not long before I heard the door and flushed before I opened the door. Two frowning commandoes looked at me and past me into the booth. I started for the sinks and one stepped forward, “papers...”

I brushed his hand aside and used a knife hand strike to his throat as I moved past him and kicked into the groin of the second man. He folded as he was thrown back against the wall and I continued after him and twisted and kick out as his hands searched for his weapon. My foot slammed his head into the wall and it made a sickening thud.

I moved back to the first man as he struggled and turned and lifted his rifle. I grabbed his head and twisted until there was a pop as his spine snapped. I pulled them into the booth with the other commando and moved to the door. I waited and finally the door started to open and I moved as if I were leaving. The man shifted as if to avoid me and I followed before striking up with a palm strike.

His head snapped back as I caught him and pulled him into the room and then the booth with the other bodies. I slipped out and went to get my bag before removing and assembling my rifle. People moved away quickly as I loaded it and started walking. The four man team came out of a door across from the bathroom and started across.

I growled as I put a short burst of bullets into the point man and then the two following him. The last man dove behind a row of machines and I went the other way. I put a dozen penetrators through the corner machine as I moved around it to find the last man writhing on the floor in his own blood. I put a last round through his head before I turned and moved back to my bag and the gate.

I grabbed the bag on the way through the gate and slipped out a side door. I went down and exited on the ground beside the shuttle landing gear. I looked around before calmly crossing and climbing up. I used a maintenance hatch to get into the cargo area and then took my rifle apart and put it away. I moved over and around the cargo to the very back and climbed a ladder before slowly lifting a hatch.

I climbed into the small space and closed the hatch before looking up. I pulled down the crew maintenance ladder and climbed up and opened a second hatch. This one led into an area above the normal passenger area. It was cramped but more than large enough to lay down. I slipped in and closed the hatch before relaxing. It was a couple of hours before the shuttle began to move.

After it lifted off it got chilly and I went weightless after it went into orbit. When it docked with the ship I climbed down and peeked out before slipping out and joining the departing passengers. I checked in with the ship purser and went to the small cabin that was mine. A day later the ship began to move, at the next hub I changed ships to a cargo ship.

Sidney

I stood on the wide station porch and watched as several men continued to unload the filthy sheep from my trailers. I smiled as the tiny woman pressed against my side and spoke, “did you ask them to wash the trailers?”

I looked at her, “aye.”

She nodded as she looked around, “that is good because I am bloody not going too.”

I grinned and then frowned as the comm relay chimed, “I thought you shut that off?”

She grinned as I lifted the small relay screen and froze when I saw the encrypted message. She bumped me, “what is it?”

I looked around as I tried to think, “trouble.”

I stepped off the porch, “come on.”

I had taken extra precautions over the years and hoped they paid off. We were a week away from Globe, the capital and starport. Behind my truck cab I pulled the two hover bikes off and went into the center storage box, “grab a bag.”

Emily did not ask questions, she climbed into our truck to shove clothing into a bag. I pulled two bags out of the storage box, “Alex!”

I strapped one of the bags onto a bike as a large man walked back from the trailers, “what is up?”

I glanced at him as I stripped, “people are going to come asking about me. Leave my rig behind the station.”

He nodded and looked at Emily when she climbed down, “you going walkaround?”

I shook my head, “I am going to war.”

I put the camo uniform on and added my personal weapons before securing the bag on top of the other. I looked at Emily as she sat waiting on the other bike, “I told you what I was and that this day might come...”

She growled, “shut up and get on the bike before I beat you.”

I grinned as Alex chuckled and glanced at him, “stay safe.”

I swung onto the bike and started it before accelerating straight north into the green fields with my mate following. I went over the alternate routes back to the starport as I turned east and went behind a ridge. I glanced back before continuing along the side of the ridge and then turned north and went into a narrow gully through another ridge.

I turned west when we came out and made room for Emily to move up beside me. It was getting dark when we approached the tall sandstone ridge. I slowed and then stopped as I looked at the small herd of hoppers. They were not like earth marsups, they had fur but were actually reptile. Emily barely hesitated as she lifted a rifle and fired, “clean it while I get a fire going.”

I smiled and shut the bike off, “we need to get under cover.”

She snorted as she swung off the bike and started collecting sticks. I shook my head and went to skin and clean the animal. I was always amazed at what Emily could do and this time was not an exception. An hour later I had a full belly and we were slowly riding between sandstone and into a narrow tunnel. I switched on the light and led the way as I continued to ride.

I stopped in a wide cavern with a hole in the roof. It was close to midnight as I swung off and stretched. I pulled a poncho out of my bag as Emily hurried into the dark. She came back slower and smiled as she laid beside me on the poncho and put her head on my shoulder. I held her as I thought about and hoped the tunnels had not collapsed over the years.

They led all the way to the edge of Globe. Of course there were gaps between some of the ridges but for the most part we would be hidden. I was up early and stretching before Emily got up and pulled a couple of rations out of her bag. Several hours later I slowed as we were reaching one of the openings. I stopped short and Emily pulled up behind me, “what is wrong?”

I was looking at the cavern in front of us with the slit leading out but something had changed. I shook my head before swinging off the bike and moving forward slowly. I pulled my pistol at the slight sound of sand shifting. The huge shape flowed away from a wall and towards me as if it was just a hump of moving sand. I aimed and fired three times.

The sand shark thrashed around emitting subsonic screams that made my head hurt. When it stilled I looked around before moving to check it and then turning to the bike. Sand sharks were like a snake, it did not have legs. They had a camouflage system like a chamaeleon and blended into whatever they were on. The mouth was very large with several rows of razor sharp teeth.

I shook my head before holstering my pistol and heading back to the bike. Emily grinned and let me lead the way out and across the kilometer gap before entering another tunnel. This time I went slow since it had been raining outside. Water fell from the roof holes as we kept riding and I came into a central cavern for this ridge.

I looked at the pool of water that seemed to fill the whole cavern and glanced back, “wait but follow exactly where I go.”

Emily nodded as I turned to move along the left wall with water pushing away but coming back to wet my feet. When I reached dry ground on the other side I stopped and turned to watch Emily. When I saw the ripples I pulled my pistol and aimed, “faster!”

The huge lizard surged out of the water as she accelerated and it missed. I fired and turned to watch the water as she pulled around me and stopped. I grinned, “wait until tonight.”

She smiled and glanced back, “get moving you lazy boy.”

I turned as I put my pistol away and started moving. It was almost dark when I came out of the ridge to another gap. Emily turned and slowed before stopping, I stopped and looked back as she got off and went behind a bush to go to the bathroom. A minute later I heard the shot and was off the bike and running. I came around the bush where she was and she pointed to a dead hopper, “dinner.”

I put my pistol away, “one of these days I am going to spank you.”

She grinned and put her pistol away, “in your dreams.”
I went to clean the hopper and put it on my bike before leading the way into the next set of tunnels. I did not go far before stopping for the night. Emily made a nice dinner using a small stove and I sat holding her after as I tried to think about what could be waiting. It was a few days before we came out of the tunnels and stopped, now the hard part would start.

I led the way using gullies as I watched the storm clouds gather. We came in from the stockyard and I slowed as I used one of the sheep runs. I parked beside a large warehouse and got off. I undid the straps holding my bags and slung one like a pack and shouldered the other. I reached out as Emily walked up and took her bag, “remember how to get to the Dodge House from here?”

She nodded and took the lead as I followed. I watched the shadows and alleys as we left the pens behind and entered streets with one story houses and wide porches. The flash of lightning showed four men spreading out in front of us. I was tempted to stop and pull my pistol, a man appeared out of the shadows right in front of Emily, “what do we have here.”

He was sneering as she started and kicked out, “THIEF!”

The man folded over holding himself and dropped to the ground as the other three men moved forward, “do not move!”

I shifted and waited as Emily stopped kicking the downed man, “what... who are you?”

The men looked at each other and one shook his head, “it is not him.”

Emily put her hands on her hips, “I asked a question lad.”

One of the men looked at me and grinned, “we are soldiers lady and we are here looking for traitors to the council.”

Emily snorted, “you can not be a traitor to the council moron. Only the emperor or the empire, now get out of our way so we can get home.”

The man stepped closer and growled, “treason...”

He screamed as Emily grabbed between his legs and yanked, “I said move lad.”

He dropped and the others lifted rifles. I shook my head, “Emily.”

She looked at me and I tossed a bag towards the two men still standing. I pulled my pistol as the first man tried to find his weapon. I fired and he jerked as he went over and onto his back. The two men I had throw the bags towards had been surprised and reacted to catch the bags. That was a deadly mistake as I brought my pistol up and shot the one on the right in the throat and the one on the left between the eyes.

The last man was lifting his rifle when Emily put the muzzle of her pistol against his head and he froze. I smiled and put my pistol away as I took the last bag off and moved to yank the man up. I searched him and took his pistol and knife. I patted his cheek, “we do not like government types bullying us. Now why don’t you head west and go walkaround.”

He swallowed and nodded and I turned him and gave him a push. I watched him walk away and retrieved my bags, “no more fooling around.”

Emily nodded and sighed, “yes sir.”
I glanced at her and nodded in the direction we had been going. It was a couple of blocks before she turned down an alley and then went across a street to a brightly lit restaurant hotel. We walked in the front doors and Emily stretched, “Dad!”

She headed for the stairs as an ancient man walked out behind a counter, “Emily?”

I smiled, “we need a quiet room and I need the small case.”

He nodded, “I will bring it up.”

I followed Emily up and around to a room on the second floor and in a corner. I never know where she keeps things but she pulled out a master key and unlocked the door. I followed her in, “and how do you know there was not a guest in here?”

She grinned as she headed for the fresher, “dad never rents out my room.”

It was maybe ten minutes before her father knocked and I let him in. Beside a small case he had a tray with our dinner on it. We could hear Emily singing from the fresher and he grinned, “I see she remembered where the bath was.”

I grinned as I set the tray aside and opened the small case. I pulled out the two sets of idents, an encryption key and a small comp. I thought and worked for a minute before going to the wall comm and sent a message. I turned, “I need a ship list of who is leaving and where they are headed.”

He nodded and left while I striped and headed for the fresher and a shower. I had to pull Emily out of the warm water when I was done and wrapped a large towel around her before heading into the other room. She sat to eat as I dressed carefully before joining her. Her father returned and handed me the list as I sat back. I looked at it and grinned at the choices, “we are taking a vacation Em.”

She snorted, “I will believe that when I am walking in the surf.”

Her father laughed as he headed towards the door, “and then he will spend the whole time trying to pry you out of the water.”

I grinned as she stuck her tongue out at her father and used the small comp to make a reservation for two on a liner leaving in a couple of days. Emily stood and pulled me up, “enough, we have a real bed at least for the night.”

I smiled as I held her, “and what did you have in mind?”

She grinned up into my face, “sleeping on you and shopping tomorrow for new clothes.”

I grinned and shook her before letting her pull me to the bed. I undressed but set my pistol beside the bed within reach. I woke to silence and checked around us before realizing I was holding the pistol. I turned to spill Emily off me and slip out of bed. I hesitated before dressing and moving to the door. I used the door vid to check the hall and stared at the black clad commando by the stairs.

I moved to the bed quickly and woke Emily and bent to whisper as her eyes opened, “we have company so get dressed.”

I moved back to the door and watched the vid as Emily dressed and moved around the room. She stopped beside me and looked at the vid before pulling on my arm. I followed as she grabbed her bag and I slung my heavy one and lifted the other. I followed her into the bathroom as she crossed to the tub. She grinned at me as she stepped in and pushed the wall panel in.

I blinked as it sank into the wall before sliding aside. She stepped out of the tub and into the space behind the wall before stepping to the side and onto a ladder. I followed her and turned a little to pull the panel. It moved back into place and we were left in darkness. I heard Emily start down and hesitated before feeling for the ladder and following her.

We went down past the first floor and then past what would be a basement level. Several moments later there was a slight glow and I stepped off the ladder beside Emily as she lifted a chemical lantern and grinned, “this is an old root cellar I shielded and added a narrow tunnel to.”

I nodded as I looked around before following her as she started walking, “It comes out under what used to be my grandmother’s cottage.”

It was awhile before we reached another ladder and she started up. I followed and then had to wait for a minute before she stepped off the ladder and disappeared. I climbed up and saw the shielded glow from the lantern and stepped off the ladder. Emily closed the lantern and a panel slid open before she stepped out. I followed and looked around at the crowded garage filled with boxes.

She grinned and whispered, “Dad only uses this for storage now.”

I led the way around to a back door and listened before opening it. I was a little worried about her father but I should have known better. A huge shadow drifted out of the night and I lifted my pistol before his hand covered it and my own, “quiet. Brantly is still decoying them with a game of cards.”

I looked at the old man and realized he was one of many that Emily’s father had around him. He let my hand go, “go around to the south and follow the wash to a dry pond. Go east to a large house with a lot of lights. Knock on the back door and tell the woman that answers you want the special.”

I looked at Emily but did not say anything. She snorted and hit my shoulder, “I saw that look and I know Marie’s house.”

I grinned and turned to head south and walked beside Emily until we walked out of the dry pond. I shifted and moved forward as we approached the house. When the door opened the woman that stood there grinned and held the door wider, “welcome back Em.”

I turned to look at my wife in surprise and she shoved me in, “where did you think I learned about sex?”

I grinned as she kissed the woman, “we need the special Dawn.”

A few minutes later we were in a hidden room with no windows and scan protection on the walls. We spent the next day and a half talking and loving as my wife told me about working here when she was a girl. Her father was fine, the commandoes searched the hotel and restaurant just as they did others. I dressed in a store bought suit when it was time to go and the three bags turned into fancy suitcases.

We took a hire car from the house to the port and I followed Emily in as if she was the boss, which she is most of the time. The one time a commando stopped us Emily dressed him down like a drunken sailor in a brothel until he backed off with a white face. He must have warned the others because besides a few looks of pity they did not come close.

We took the first shuttle up and waited two days before the liner started moving.
Kingdom

I glanced at Jen sipping tea in the shop and dressed like all the other young students on the huge station. The emperor would know we were coming. The traitors on the council thought we were coming. The commandoes were afraid we were coming. They were all right but I knew something they did not, we were already here.

I smiled as Sharp finally moved out of the crowd and crossed to me, “about time.”

He grinned and glanced back before walking to the large table Jen and I had sat at for several days, “Hi I am James.”

She smiled at him and looked at me, “hello Sharp.”

He shifted and glanced back before looking at her again, “and what would a tender thing like you be doing with the old man?”

She grinned, “he belongs to me.”

He laughed and waved to the waitress to order tea. Mat appeared beside me, “like a beacon in the night.”

I snorted and he walked into the shop to sit beside Sharp. Jen looked at him closely, “um... Deadeye?”

Mat grinned, “a lifetime ago.”

She reached out to touch his hand, “I think Sam meant it another way.”

He looked at her and then at Sharp before nodding. Herman walked down the busy corridor calmly and paused before going in, “the vids are covered.”

I nodded and let him go in as Jeff strode across from another shop. He nodded but did not stop as Jen greeted the Professor. David and Adam were next with a stunning woman between them on Adam’s arm. I smiled when she looked at me and whispered to Adam who blushed while David laughed. Last was the large frame of Paul with the tiny woman almost hiding in his shadow.

I followed them in and sat beside Jen and looked around the table, “the regency council meets in four days to decide who the emperor’s granddaughter will marry. We are hitting them in the Council Hall. Boomer you need to collect a few surprises to slip into the supporters viewing galley. I want max damage to the assholes. Use a mini to back up Adam and David.”

I looked at the Professor, “we need secure encrypted comms and once the show starts we need a total shut down of their systems.”

He nodded and I glanced at Mat, “recon the Hall and make sure our surprises are still in place. Find a spot to cover the emperor and his granddaughter. Kill any guard that gets close to them once we open the door.”

He nodded and I looked at Sharp, “we are going in through the Kilgore tunnel.”

Sharp grinned, “of course.”

I looked at Paul, “you need a mini on the right wing.”

I glanced at Adam and David, “take the commandoes at the doors. No one enters or leaves the hall until we have the emperor and his granddaughter.”

I looked around the table again, “I will take the council out. This time we are walking away with the emperor and everyone that gets in the way dies.”

They all nodded and I leaned back, “so...”

I looked at Jen, “This is Jen, my companion and a biologist.”

Adam grinned, “this is Alley, my companion and a archeologist.”

Paul grinned, “this is my wife and boss. She is a damn good mechanic and driver too.”

We laughed as she hit his shoulder and smiled at us. I sighed, “it is good to see you again but now we need to move. I have a tug scheduled to take us down in an hour. Meet at the under gate in maintenance, level four, dock five tube two.”

I went to watch as one by one they left and then Jen slipped her arm through mine. I walked out and headed across and into another service door. We walked down a hall and then used a lift to go down to level four. Down another hall we stopped beside a door marked maintenance and Jen went in. I watched until she returned with our bags and slung one before leading her down to another door.

The docking bay we entered was huge and I led the way to the right. I stopped beside a data terminal and I started the prepared loop I had made and checked. We crossed another bay and slipped into an airlock. I grinned when I saw Sharp and turned to watch the empty bay. It was a minute before Mat crossed and walked into the airlock and Sharp led him into the tug.

One by one the others appeared and went past me until everyone was there. I used the airlock terminal and entered a set of commands before closing the doors and the hatches in the tug. I headed to the bridge and ignored the Professor at the engineer display and Sharp checking the copilot instruments. I checked the time and opened the comm, “high station control this is tug one seven three requesting clearance to leave station.”

“Copy one seven three.”

I started the sequence the separated the tug and used thrusters to move us away. I turned the ship to head out, “high station control, tug one seven three any word on the Dynasty’s anti gravs yet?”

“They got half up using a jury rig but I would not count on them.”

I headed towards the large yacht, “did they get the reactor feed tank drained?”

“Last shift. The anti gravs are running off the power coils.”

Herman snorted, “the anti gravs will not last once we reach atmosphere.”

I nodded, “that is why they wanted a tug to take it down Professor.”

I slowed and drifted over the yacht before stopping. I switched on the grav tractors and watched a screen as the ship moved toward us. The tug shifted when the yacht touched the hull and it began to conform to yacht’s shape. Finally I locked the grav tractors, “high station control this is tug one seven three requesting clearance to begin atmosphere descent to the secondary starport on Dent.”
“Copy one seven three, you are cleared for reentry.”

I checked the tug comp before putting in the data and we began to descend and slow to match the planet’s rotation. I glanced at the Professor, “go ahead and turn the shield generators on.”

I dropped lower and watched as the shields began heating up. A few minutes and we dropped through into open sky. I changed course, “Dent control this is tug one seven three heavy requesting clearance to Salidor repair yards.”

“Copy one seven three, you are cleared to precede.”

I slowed and began descending until we were a few thousand meters from the surface and close to the outer marker of the landing pads, “Salidor control this is tug one seven three heavy requesting clearance to land.”

“We have been expecting you one seven three. Pad four is prepped and ready and pad five is clear.”

I glanced at the pad marker beacons and made a slight course change, “start the altitude reading Sharp.”

He began to read off the altitude from the ground to the yacht as I dropped lower and slowed. It was a little tense as I brought the tug to a hover and slowly settled the yacht onto the anti grav pad waiting for it. I glanced back to the Professor, “let it go.”

The ship shifted and lifted up before I adjusted and began moving to the next landing pad. I settled the ship on the pad before beginning the shut down sequence. I glanced at Sharp and nodded my head towards the hatch. He slipped out of the other seat and grabbed his bag, “see you at the Kilgore tunnel.”

One by one the others left and then I grabbed my bag and smiled at Jen. She led the way and once we were out and down, slipped an arm through mine. She talked about shopping and seeing the imperial gardens and the... I kept nodding as I checked around us. I made a few calls from public comms during the next three days while taking Jen around to all the tourists sites.

I was up early the morning of the fourth day and dressed before coming back to sit on the bed and wake Jen. She smiled, “you better not die Samuel, I want to meet the emperor.”

I smiled, “Just be at the spot I told you and do not be late.”

She nodded and I bent to caress her face and kiss her. I stood and grabbed my rifle before leaving. I used the housekeeping code to open their closet on the floor before using their lift shaft. I got out in the basement and then moved to the back corner to remove a panel. I stepped into a narrow corridor and moved sideways down to the other end.

I broken the seal on the panel blocking the way and stepped out in a public fresher. It was in the underground public tram station. I closed the panel before moving across the room and opening the maintenance and janitorial access. I slipped in and moved around cleaning and maintenance equipment. At a back wall I touched four tiles in sequence and the wall slid in.

I moved in and closed it before climbing down another long ladder. I stepped off at the bottom and put a pair of night glasses on. I went down another narrow hall to a tunnel before turning right. I started walking as I thought ahead and tried to think of anything I might have missed. I glanced aside when Sharp stepped out of a niche, “all clear boss.”

I nodded and kept going until we reached a four way intersection. A couple of minutes and Mat appeared out of the shadows like a ghost. I smiled and nodded as he shifted the sniper rifle on his back. David and Adam walked down the tunnel on the right and nodded as they cradled their assault rifles. Herman walked up from behind with his rifle and a small pack. The last to arrive was Jeff and Paul from the tunnel on the left.

Jeff smiled, “our surprise in the viewing galley is in place.”

I looked at Mat as Herman handed out the ear buds and encrypted comms. He nodded, “everything we left is still there and ready.”

I nodded and fit the bud in my ear, “how does the surveillance look Professor?”

He grinned, “their security people are pathetic. There is ten plain clothes guards in the viewing galley which we expected. The twenty men guarding the councilors are not allowed near the emperor, his granddaughter or their guards. The area directly behind the councilors has their assistants and a few undercover bodyguards. The emperor’s guards are never more than a few steps from him or his granddaughter.”

He looked at Mat, “The good news about them is they do not wear body screens or armor.”

Mat nodded and I glanced around, “ready?”

They nodded and I started walking as Sharp moved ahead. I glanced at the Professor beside me, “when we get there you stay with Sharp and watch our way out and the security vids.”

He smiled, “of course.”

We walked in silence as I continued to scan the darkness and the shadows. Sharp was waiting beside the recess and started up when we reached him. One by one we followed and began separating, I moved through a narrow service vent before stopping at the screen and gave a double click on our comm. I waited and listened for the others.

I could see the hall through the vent screen and listened to the murmurs and talking. It was several hours before it went quiet and then the emperor walked in. The way they treated him made me grit my teeth but I needed to wait. Mat clicked his comm and whispered, “go.”

I kicked the screen and kept moving as I brought my rifle up and fired into the chest of the closest councilor and shifted as I continued to move while explosions rocked the hall and weapons went off. I put three more down before a guard pushed through and I shifted to put a round through his head, “Status Deadeye?”

“Green and waiting for pickup.”

I nodded as I shot and killed two more councilors as mini guns ripped the door guards and others apart, “time for our surprise Professor.”

“Five seconds.”

I killed the last two councilors and spun to leap onto the platform where the emperor was kneeling as he held his granddaughter. I pulled him up as explosions outside the hall shook the building, “time to go sir.”

I pushed him towards Sharp as he appeared out of a panel and turned to walk backwards. I watched the carnage in the hall and scanned for any threats. I hoped the other surprises had worked as well as I turned to follow them through the panel, “break.”
I followed them in and then down until we were standing in the tunnel, “status of the other packages Professor?”

He smiled, “we got all but one.”

I nodded and started moving as the others began to join us. Thirty minutes later we walked into a dimly lit area that had been a station a century ago. I smiled at Jen, Ally and Emily before introducing them. I looked at the old man that was the emperor, “we are not leaving you this time sir.”

He sighed, “I know Samuel and I should not have ordered you to before.”

He looked at his frightened granddaughter, “this is Commander Grey and these other men are his team. They were... are sworn to me... us.”

She looked around and I cleared my throat, “up the ladder is the assembly. You need to address them to reassure them you are safe and in control.”

He snorted, “they do not care if I am in control.”

I growled, “they better or I will shoot them where they sit. You are emperor and it is time you acted like it.”

He nodded and straightened, “you are right.”

I looked at the Professor, “how bad is it upstairs?”

He shook his head, “they are arguing over who will take control.”

I gestured to Sharp and he vanished up the ladder with Mat following. I looked at Jeff and Paul, “take the wings.”

I gestured and they started climbing and I looked at the Professor, “stay with the ladies but watch all the vids. I want to know before one of these assholes tries anything.”

He smiled and nodded as I turned and started climbing, “follow me sir.”

It was not very far before I stepped off and helped him. I turned to push a switch and the crack between two walls widened until it was a passageway. I led him down and pushed the utility panel open before glancing around and stepping out. I helped him and then his granddaughter before David and Adam moved forward. I hesitated, “we are set.”

Mat answered, “in position.”

Jeff and Paul answered almost at the same time, “in position.”

I looked at the emperor, “ready Professor?”

“Go.”

I nodded to the emperor and he took a breath before starting to walk with his granddaughter holding his arm. I walked at his side as we started up the stairs and then went down a hall. I opened the side door into the Assembly before nodding to the emperor, “shut them up Professor.”
All the mics screamed like it was feed back and everyone hesitated. I yelled, “ON YOUR FEET!”

They looked and started to stand as I walked beside the emperor towards the front of the assembly hall. Several started talking and I snarled, “shut the hell up morons.”

I stopped at the edge of the raised platform and looked at the three men standing on it, “get off and back to your seats.”

They looked at each other and one licked his lips, “I am...”

I pointed my rifle, “committing treason, get off and back to your seat now.”

They moved and I nodded to the emperor, “sir.”

He climbed the steps with his granddaughter and walked to the center. I continued to scan the people in the hall while he talked. The Professor murmured in my ear, “company.”

I looked at the eight commandoes as they walked through the far doors and started down the open walk. I shifted, “halt.”

The one in the lead looked at me, “I am the emperor’s personal...”

I pointed my weapon, “you are a traitor.”

One lifted his weapon and died as he was shot. I looked at them calmly, “the emperor is no longer a puppet. I would run before you are sentenced and hung.”

They backed up but one stood fast as the others ran. He licked his lips, “I am loyal to the emperor.”

I looked at him carefully, “Professor?”

“Scanning.”

I waited as the others left and a moment later the Professor came back, “clean.”

I nodded to the commando, “no one approaches him without his permission.”

He nodded and I gestured to the door, “watched the door.”

The next two months were filled with a lot of politicos trying to keep their power. Of course the emperor was having none of that and dealt with them harshly. Those that were not shot for treason were impoverished and sent to new colony worlds. Mostly I dealt with new commandoes straight out of the academy. The senior fleet officers that were not killed by explosives planted in the walls of their offices ran.

The Professor was culling through the senior officers left to find loyal replacements. Sharp and Mat were reworking the commando academy training program while David, Adam, Jeff and Paul protected the emperor and trained new guards. It is surprising how the people have rallied to support the emperor. Jen, Ally and Emily actually helped a lot in those weeks, meeting with people and setting up appointments if necessary.

I stretched when I walked out on deck of the King’s Tear and looked at my wife. She was on the dock speaking to my team we were taking out. Jen turned and grinned when she saw me, “about time you were up.”
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