Graveyard of Empires - Chapter 2

Geid was a smaller planet than Wade was expecting. That wasn’t to say it was small, but compared to Axis it was barely a dot. Wade touched his ship—the Hummingbird—down just outside one of the larger cities, Averton.
Graveyard of Empires - Chapter 2

Sector 6 - Geid

Argus Wade

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Geid was a smaller planet than Wade was expecting.

That wasn’t to say it was small, but compared to Axis it was barely a dot. Wade touched his ship—the Hummingbird—down just outside one of the larger cities, Averton. A few seconds, later the other ship traveling with him—the Cudgel—touched down as well. The Cudgel was Vivian’s personal ship, a little blocky merchant class vessel that had seen its fair share of wear and tear. 

Wade found himself to be in high spirits as they traveled; the prospect of what he had done by sending his message to Denigen’s Fist was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating: if he was caught, he would be killed, but if things went according to plan, then he would be simultaneously saving his daughter and undermining the Minister, a man he hated more than most others.

They were landing in a parking lot of an abandoned robotics factory, so it would be a significant walk to meet his clients in the city. Averton had a population of just under five hundred thousand with a median age of forty-two.

“We are cleared to land, right?” Wade asked. It wasn’t his first time asking the question.

“Yes,” Jack said, “we are cleared.”

Jack had grown more comfortable around Wade during the trip, and Wade found him to be good company despite being stiff and unassuming. They disembarked from the ship and headed out to meet Vivian, exiting her own vessel.

The air reeked. Agricultural planets often smelled terrible, and Geid was no exception. Wade found himself gagging as he stepped off the landing platform and covered his mouth with the back end of his shirt.

He heard a chuckle from nearby and shot a glare at Vivian.

“This is not bad,” she said.

“It smells like manure,” Wade replied.

She shrugged. “There are worse things. Lower your shirt before you offend someone. The smell will pass.”

“You mean I’ll get used to it,” Wade said. But he did drop the edge of his shirt back down. The smell made him gag again, but he forced his mind to ignore it. “I’ll get used to having little flakes of fecal material stuck in my nasal cavities. That is so reassuring.”

“Better than flakes of dead people,” Vivian said softly. Wade looked at her incredulously.

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Just perspective. No matter how bad things are, they can always be worse.”

Wade just stared at her. “You are quite the ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”

Jeremiah cleared his throat, drawing their attention. They were all dressed like civilians from the region (courtesy of Jack Lane, their pilot) and looked out of sorts in the loose-fitting brown clothing. Especially Jeremiah: he was a man in his late fifties and had never worn anything outside of his customary Ministerial robes. 

Jeremiah had shaved his head and applied a glossy substance that gave it an extra sheen. That had taken him about an hour’s worth of preparation. Vivian had done up her raven hair in a bun, which had taken nearly as long. Wade’s hair had that ruffled look of someone who’d just gotten out of bed; that had taken him almost three hours to prepare, though his hair was receding more than he remembered.

“We need to get moving,” Jeremiah reminded them. “We have many people to speak to and not a lot of time.”

The short bald man turned and strode toward Averton. Vivian and Wade exchanged a glance and then followed. They decided to keep the soldiers on board the Hummingbird, at least for now. They didn’t want to draw extra attention. As hard as it would be for them to fit in, having twenty soldiers walking by their side would make it impossible.

Plus, Geid was supposed to be a peaceful planet, so soldiers shouldn’t be necessary. Worst-case scenario, Wade had Vivian to protect him.

“Here,” he said, handing her a stack of pamphlets.

“What are these for?” she asked.

“You give them to people and they read them. Then they give them to other people, who also read them.”

“I mean why are we passing out pamphlets? Did Jeremiah make these?”

“No, I did,” Wade said. “Seemed like the easiest way to do our job without having to talk to people. I offered Jeremiah some, but he didn’t seem interested.”

“He doesn’t trust you,” Vivian said.

Wade pretended he was hurt. “He doesn’t? How could he possibly not?”

“He thinks you make a mockery of his religion,” Vivian replied.

Wade shrugged. “I never asked to join the Ministry. Hell, they never asked me either. My life is just trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

“And I don’t judge you for that. But it’s clear you don’t care much about the Ministry or Jeremiah’s God.”

“Why do you say that?” Wade said, miffed. “I don’t think it’s clear at all that I don’t believe.” 

“This is a missionary trip,” Vivian explained, “and you made pamphlets.”

Wade narrowed his eyes. “What’s wrong with pamphlets?”

“Nothing,” said Vivian, “if you are trying to dilute your religion down to the equivalent of a travel destination. This is a missionary trip, Wade. We have a very specific purpose, and a true believer would find your pamphlets offensive. Jeremiah won’t object, of course. The Word of God is the Word, and any method of spreading it is worthwhile. But he is still offended.”

“I don’t get it. Why?”

Vivian sighed. “The fact that you don’t get it is why Jeremiah will never trust you.”

Wade frowned and looked at the picture of smiling people on the cover of his little booklet. “The Minister thought my pamphlets were an excellent idea.”

“Exactly,” Vivian said, then she hurried to catch up to Jeremiah. Wade trailed behind, even more confused. Enormous crop fields flanked the road on both sides, recently harvested and stretching into the distance. They passed the occasional copse of trees that hadn’t been cut down for farmland.

Wade pulled one of the pamphlets out of his satchel and frowned at the glossy cover.

“There is nothing wrong with pamphlets.”

He stuffed it back into his bag and rushed to catch up.

Sector 6 - Geid

Argus Wade

The revolver thundered in the courtyard below.

Argus Wade could taste bile in his throat. It tasted like jealousy. One in a thousand, maybe one in a million trained marksmen could ever be as good as Patrick Uhlren with a revolver. With such monumental odds against him, it wasn’t worth getting jealous over how good Patrick was: God granted him his talent, and thus it is God’s triumph, not his.

That logic stung of falsehood, though. It wasn’t a lack of sacrosanct belief for Wade, but rather a lack of personal worth. Both of them were members of the Ordo Mens Rea, but the similarities ended there. Wade was good with numbers; Patrick, an honorable Shield of the First Citizen, was a prodigy.  Given the choice between which of the talents he wanted—guns or numbers—Wade wouldn’t even hesitate. 

Numbers didn’t impress people, but they were safe. Wade had never been good with weapons and sure as hell wasn’t a fan of putting his life at risk. The last time he used a pistol on a training range, he’d nearly shot himself in the foot. Plus, numbers were important to the Ministry and the Republic.

Yet knowing he was important didn’t diminish Wade’s jealousy. Dozens of schoolchildren clustered around Patrick with adoring faces. These were the children of the most famous and wealthiest citizens in the Galaxy, the ones who could afford to send their children to the Core to train with the Ministry. All of the children worshiped Patrick in a way that they would never worship Wade.

It hurt.

Another small target, no bigger than a kiwi, flew up into the air. The shot that followed shook the glass Wade was watching through. Eighty meters, at least. That was the distance from which Patrick shot the target, and it exploded in a cloud of dust from a direct hit. Another cheer rose from the adoring crowd.

Wade swallowed his bile. Petty or not, he couldn’t afford to dally. He had a job to do.

“Patrick is an excellent shot,” the quartermaster offered, stepping up beside Wade to look out at the courtyard.

They were standing in a glass walkway, having stopped on their way to the hangar. They wanted to see what the commotion was about—neither had known a Shield was visiting the Ministry today—and ended up watching for several minutes.

“He is,” Wade agreed, “one of the best.”

“To think, one of the First Citizen’s personal defenders,” the quartermaster said, reverently touching the glass as he watched Patrick reload his weapon. A flick of the wrist and then he rolled the bullets gracefully into the chamber. “I once dreamed of being chosen to join the Twelve. What a foolish child I was.”

What child doesn’t wish for that? Wade wondered. But there can only be twelve at any time. He turned away from the window. “You were saying?”

“I was?”

Wade waved his hand in annoyance. “About the trip. You were listing off supplies being loaded into my ship.”

The quartermaster—he was short and ruddy with droopy cheeks—opened his ledger once again and ran his finger along the page. He found his spot and cleared his throat.

“Twenty-two crates of foodstuffs, including sixty-eight pounds of perishables and—”

“How many days’ worth?” Wade interrupted. “I don’t need specifics.”

The man scanned his page again. “Forty-six.”

“I thought it was thirteen days?” Wade said. “When I spoke to the Minister, he said it would be a normal trip.”

“I haven’t spoken to him,” the man replied.

“How many priests will be accompanying me?”

“Only one. Jeremiah Robinson. He’s been sent an itinerary and is expected to move to the Hummingbird whenever you send for him.”

Wade stifled a groan. Jeremiah was annoying on his best days. An old priest, set in his ways, and angry with anything he didn’t understand. That category included most things, especially the Order to which Wade belonged. The Ordo Mens Rea wasn’t discussed openly in the Ministry. Only a handful of people even knew it existed, let alone what it was for. Jeremiah didn’t rank highly enough to be trusted, so he resorted instead to distrusting any and all priests he knew were members.

And that list included Wade.

The worst part was that Jeremiah wouldn’t like that Wade was in charge. He would be quick to report any wrongdoings to the Minister.

But there was nothing Wade could do about it now. He pushed the concern away. “Very well. We will be leaving for Sector Three—”

“Six,” the quartermaster interrupted, closing his ledger. “You’ll be going to Sector Six.”

“Six?” Wade echoed, excitement creeping into his voice. That changes everything. “You are certain?”


“Sector Six is outside Republic territory. It’s an unclassified sector.”

“Yet human occupied,” the quartermaster replied. “Therefore, they should hear the word of the Lord and receive His blessing.”

“We haven’t traveled past sector four in hundreds of years,” Wade said. “They don’t know of the Ministry.”

“Only for now,” the man replied. “But by the grace of the First Citizen, we will bring the heathens into the fold within the next few years. The legacy of such integration will belong to those men and women brave enough to face the savagery beyond our borders and spread the word of our Lord.”

Shameless ass-kissing, Wade thought, isn’t necessary.

Another gunshot sounded from below, but it barely registered to Wade. His mind was in motion now, doing what it did best: sifting the muddy water to find the gold.

I suggested traveling to Sector Six years ago, but I never expected the Minister to agree. Sector Six is dangerous, but their technology is, at least, thirty years behind ours. Maybe more. The money I could make selling even the most modest equipment… 

“I’ll need protection,” he said.

The quartermaster looked at his clipboard. “You will have thirty soldiers from the Capital Cruiser Denigen’s Fist. Two pilots: Jack Lane and Michael Grant—”

“I have someone particular in mind.”

The man lowered the clipboard and raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Vivian Drowel.”

“Not possible,” the man replied. “She is not sanctioned to leave—”

“I don’t care if she’s sanctioned or not. She’s the one I want. She has clearance, correct?”

“That was revoked when she returned from the Capital two years ago. She isn’t allowed to leave the Ministry until she has been cleared.”

Wade groaned internally. “Well then un-revoke it. I don’t care what you have to do, get her clearance. If I’m being sent out into dangerous territory, I want someone with me I can trust.”

The man hesitated, and then jotted something on the data pad. “I will see what I can do.”

“That’s all I ask,” Wade lied. He felt a jolt of heat run across his temporal lobe as his implant heated up. He added just enough suggestion to his words to make the man do as he asked. Manipulating someone’s mind was dangerous: If the Minister caught him, his punishment would be immediate execution. But he doubted the ruddy-faced man would ever know that anything untoward had happened.

The man nodded, making another notation. His expression was thoughtful.

This might not be so bad, Wade decided. If they are sending me to Sector Six, they must not have high expectations for conversions to the Ministry. I can stop at Terminus along the way to stock up on goods and spend a few weeks planet hopping. With luck, I’ll leave Sector Six with an empty hull and full bank account.

Time to go find Vivian.



“Wade, we have a problem.”

No hesitation. No greeting. Argus Wade was kind of irked as he stepped into Vivian Drowel’s chambers. It was a small and low-ceilinged room, Spartan in furnishing and completely lacking any warmth or personality.

Come to think of it, he was always kind of irked when Vivian was around. She wasn’t exactly the friendliest person alive, and she was notorious for being straightforward and direct. He trusted her with his life and loved her like a sister, he just didn’t enjoy spending time with her.

“What sort of problem? I didn’t think they would get word to you that quickly about coming with me to Sector Six. But don’t think of it as a burden. It’s an opportunity.”

She looked up. “What?”

“The mission trip. I thought you would be excited to go.”

“What mission trip? What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?”

Vivian held a data pad out to Wade. He took it and glanced at it: it was currently displaying a list of names.

“New students,” he said, offering it back to Vivian. “What of it?”

“Look again.”

Wade bit back his annoyance and glanced at the pad again. Christian Blain, Anthony Walton, Georgia Winterton. He scanned through the names but didn’t see anything immediately strange about it.

“A lot of high-profile students,” he said. “And a lot of very rich families sending their children here to study. This is the new group arriving next week, correct?”

“Number twenty-nine.”

Wade scanned farther down the list and read the name.

Abigail Walton.

He read it again, feeling his stomach sink.

“Oh...” he mumbled. “Oh no.”

“You said they wouldn’t find her,” Vivian said. “But they have, and she will be arriving in six days.”

“I didn’t think...I mean...” Wade said, fighting down a surge of panic.

It wasn’t possible, especially not on a day like today when everything was going so well.

“And yet, there she is.”

“I can’t let them have her,” Wade said. He clenched his fist in fear and rage. “How the hell did they find her?”

“I don’t know, Wade.”

“She’s not some cattle for them to do with as they please. She’s my daughter!” 

He hadn’t meant to yell, yet the words hung in the air. Vivian stared at him, her expression unreadable, and Wade took a few deep breaths. His face felt flush and his muscles were tense.

“Are you done?”

Wade didn’t know. He said, “Yeah, I’m done.”

“Good, now explain what you meant.”

“What?” Wade asked.

“About the trip. You said something about Sector Six.”

He didn’t care anymore about the stupid trip. He’d just been punched in the gut and had more important things to deal with.

Was this why they’d agreed to the trip? Were they trying to keep him away until they could verify that she was his child? Was this all part of an elaborate plan?

Get ahold of yourself, he chided himself. No sense jumping to any crazy conclusions just yet.

“We’re going on a missionary trip to spread the Word,” he explained, distracted. “We leave in a few hours, so pack your bags.”

“I’m not sanctioned to leave the Ministry grounds,” she said. “I can’t go anywhere until I’ve been cleared.”

Wade waved the concern away. “It’s been handled. I know you need a chance to get away from the Ministry for a while, and I need a bodyguard.”


“You still aren’t allowed to have any,” Wade replied, “and I’m not even going to try and fight the Minister on that one.”

“How am I going to serve as a bodyguard if I am unarmed?”

“I’m allowed pistols and blades. I’ll give them to you as soon as we are off world.”

“Fair enough,” Vivian replied with a nod. “So, what are you going to do about your daughter?”

“I don’t know,” Wade replied, biting back his fear. “But she can’t stay here. She was supposed to have a normal life away from all of this.”

“Her mother must know. She hasn’t contacted you?”

“I told her not to reach out. I contact her.”

“Maybe you should,” Vivian said. “And find out what went wrong.”

Wade bit back his annoyance. Of course, he was going to contact Samantha and find out what had happened. “I’ll do that,” he said, forcing his voice to sound amicable.

“They will implant her within a month. And then her education will start.”

Wade winced, unconsciously touching a long scar under his chin. It had long since healed over, leaving little trace that it had ever been there, but it was still noticeable when he turned his head.

It was the only scar he couldn’t hide with clothes: a slip from an overly rambunctious teacher.

No child deserved to go through that.

Especially his child.

“I’ll send her away,” he said.

“Where would you send her that the Minister cannot find her?”

“I don’t know,” Wade said.

“The Minister won’t allow it, not if he knows she is yours.”

Wade knew that was the truth. If Abigail exhibited the genetic traits sought by the Ordo Mens Rea, then she would be kept at the Ministry because of her value to the Ministry as a servant and possible soldier.

And if the Minister knew who her father was, then she would be held out of spite. Wade and the Minister didn’t really see eye to eye on a lot of issues, and Givon Mielo was always looking for a way to diminish him.

“One problem at a time,” Wade decided. “I still have a few hours before my ship is loaded and we can leave the planet. I’ll think of something.”

“What about Darius?”

Wade furrowed his brow. “What about him?”

“I heard he gave a speech on Tellus. Riled up the population. He’s planning to start a rebellion. He wants to bring down the Republic.”

“He’s a rabble rouser.”

“You know as much as I do what he’s capable of,” Vivian said. “It won’t be long before he has an army at his disposal. Especially with Maven and Alyssa working alongside him. Those two are dangerous.”

Wade shrugged. “It isn’t my problem.”

“The Minister still thinks you helped them escape.”

“Then the Minister is wrong,” Wade said. “I warned Darius against leaving. And I sure as hell didn’t want him to start his own private war. What does he think he can accomplish? There are always rebellions. At least four were started just last week.”

“Not like this,” Vivian said.

Exactly like this,” Wade countered. “They crop up, fester, and are crushed. One Capital ship can bring down an entire Sector, and we have thousands. There is no chance of Darius succeeding, so why would I help him escape and risk myself in the process?”

“So, you aren’t planning on joining them?”

Wade hesitated. “So that’s what this is about?”

“I know you.”

Heat rose in his cheeks. “You think you know me,” he replied, “because we’re friends. But don’t pretend like you understand my mind.”

“You were close to him,” she said. “He looked up to you as a mentor, and you helped teach him.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m responsible for his mistakes,” Wade said. “I know my place, and I’m content with my lot in life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some actual problems to deal with without you lecturing me.”

Vivian nodded. “I’ll gather my things and be at your ship in three hours.”

Wade didn’t reply but instead walked away. His hands were clenched and he felt anger. But he was also terrified. He was afraid of what would happen to his daughter, but he was just as afraid of what would happen to him when the Minister found out he’d been hiding her from the Ministry.

Best case scenario, they would just kill him.

Most likely, however, things would be far worse.



Two hours had passed and Argus Wade had nothing to show for it.

He sat in his study—it was a plain gray room with a desk stacked with forms and data pads—and listened to the silence. His palms were sweaty, and he couldn’t seem to get enough air into his lungs. He’d felt lightheaded and weak ever since Vivian told him the Ministry had found his daughter.

It was an intractable problem, something he’d always known was possible but believed couldn’t happen. His stomach was upset, and he was fighting back panic as he thought out possible solutions to his problem.

Potentially, he could refuse his daughter admission to the Ministry. He had that authority. She would be sent home, but that would generate a report directly to the Minister and it would have Wade signing off on it. That would be as big a red flag as Wade could manage to raise, and the Minister could easily overrule his decision and recall Abigail.

He could also fabricate an illness for her, which would have her sent to the hospital for treatment, but that would be just as ill-advised. Best case scenario, it would buy him a few days’ respite while they ran tests on the young girl. She would end up here anyway, and the Minister would again have a report on his desk when they found out she was fine.

In fact, virtually anything he did would generate a report that would get him killed.

He pushed the worry aside, trying to calm his mind down. He turned to the stack of minor problems on his desk that had been piling up over the last few days. Forms he had to sign, requests to fill, hundreds of little problems that were easier to manage: flowers for the funeral of an important Aristocrat, coronation ceremonies for new buildings that were requesting Ministry presence at their coronation. He signed a few forms and let out a deep sigh.

“I don’t know what to do,” he mumbled, rubbing his face with his hands.

As if on cue, there was a ping on his communicator.

“Yes?” he asked, clicking it on.

“The Hummingbird is ready,” Gary said on the other end. Gary was one of the Ministry mechanics and one of Wade’s oldest friends. A regular guy, something rare to find here at the Ministry.

“Okay,” Wade replied. “I’m on my way.”

He clicked off the communicator and leaned back in his chair. He was out of time, and there was nothing he could do except wait it out. Maybe the Minister wouldn’t find out that Wade was Abigail’s father.

He hated the idea of what they would do to her here at the Ministry, but there was no way he could stop it without making it worse.

He grabbed a few datasheets off of his desk—the pressing issues that couldn’t wait while he was away—and headed out the door. The halls were empty. Most of the students were in class this time of day, learning about the galaxy or their place in the universe. With their rich and important parents, that place was high on the food chain.

Most of them didn’t know Wade or the Ordo Mens Rea even existed. They didn’t know about the beatings or the implants or the ones who didn’t survive training. They didn’t know about the odd manifestations members of the Order could create that couldn’t be explained.

They saw the Keepers, sure, but they had their own stories for what had happened to them and why: bad students who angered the Ministry, heinous criminals being given a second—albeit brief—chance at life. The children at the Ministry who weren’t members of the Ordo Mens Rea didn’t have a clue that some of the students wandering these halls were different.

Wade hated them. 

He passed a group of girls clustered around a classroom, giggling to themselves.

The sound of a choir singing hymns spilled out of another doorway. Wade couldn’t help but grind his teeth.

Wade found himself in the hangar, still absorbed in his thoughts and feeling lost and confused about what he was going to do. He was usually good at compartmentalizing, but this was too much.

He could go about his day like nothing was wrong and pretend he was happy. He could blend in, pretend to be normal. But this was the first time he had to face the idea that he might be out of time. This might be the end of everything.

He pulled out his communicator and dialed a number. It wasn’t saved into the device. He had memorized it for just this occasion. The call was answered almost immediately.

“Thank God you called,” a woman said. Wade winced. He could tell Samantha had been crying. “I’ve been worried ever since they took her. What are we going to do, Wade?”

“I don’t know,” Wade said. “I wish I knew, Sam. How did they find her?”

“The tests,” Samantha replied. “They administered them at her school, but they didn’t tell us it was going to happen. I didn’t know or I would have kept her home that day.”

Wade rubbed his face. “Do they know?”

“About us? No. They never even asked any questions. They just came while we were at home having dinner and took her. I... I would have called but...”

“I know,” Wade said. If she had communicated with him on an unsecured line, the Ministry would have discovered their relationship immediately.

He heard Samantha start crying again. “Wade...”

“I’ll look after her, I promise.”

“Will they...Will they hurt…?” She couldn’t complete the question, but Wade knew what she meant. She’d seen his scars.

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s part of her training.”

The Hummingbird ramp was open and waiting. He saw Gary appear at the top, a rag in hand. The mechanic waved and started walking toward Wade.

“Listen, I have to go.”

“Wait? Can’t you just send her home? Or away? Anywhere but there.”

“I can’t. If I do, they will kill both of us and they will still find her and bring her back to the Ministry.”

“Then send her somewhere outside their reach!”

Nothing is outside their reach,” Wade replied.

“Sir,” Gary said, nodding as he approached.

“Listen, I really have to go. I’ll call you as soon as I can,” he said. Then, lower he added, “I love you.”

He hung up as Gary got closer and slipped the communicator into his pocket.

Gary was old and freckly with a receding hairline and large eyes, and Wade had never seen him without gray coveralls and carrying one tool or another. He was a good man, someone that Wade really respected and enjoyed being around. They often talked about ships and mechanical work.

But right now, Wade didn’t want to talk to anyone. “Not now, Gary.”

“Something wrong, sir?”

There was no way Wade could explain anything that was going on to Gary. “No. Never mind. What do you need?”

A data pad stuck out of Gary’s pocket. He rubbed his hands on a rag, then pulled the pad out and flicked it with his finger. “The ship had a thorough washing and is loaded. The engine looks to be in top shape.”

“Good. The crew?”

“Your pilots are already on board. One is from Sector Six, so he’s also your guide,” Gary said. “Guy named Jack. Other one’s an ass, and I didn’t catch his name. The soldiers are prepped, and they’ll need to be picked up off of Denigen’s Fist on your way.”

“They aren’t being dropped off here?” Wade asked. Protocol dictated that the warship delivered them to the Hummingbird personally, not the other way around. It wasn’t an inconvenience, exactly, but it could be seen as a slight to the Ministry or Wade. A pricklier man might be offended that the Captain—

“Captain Schmidt died this morning. Denigen’s Fist closed all operations until after his funeral. No ferries running, so they can’t get the soldiers out here like they are supposed to. You’ll have to pick them up if you still want to take them.”

“Dead?” Wade said, frowning. “He was fifty-eight, wasn’t he?”

“Seventy-three, sir,” Gary replied. “Sickly for years.”

Seventy? I remember his inauguration ceremony. I didn’t realize he was so old. Wade swallowed and shook his head. I didn’t realize I was that old. “God grant him mercy,” he prayed.

“God already did,” Gary said with a chuckle. “Guess he went peacefully in his sleep. When I get that sick, I want some of that mercy, too.”

“He was a good man.”

“Wonder who will get sent up as the new Envoy,” Gary mused.

Wade shrugged. “No one, most likely. Envoys serve for life when they join a Capital ship. Portia Nace is the Envoy aboard Denigen’s Fist.”

“Oh,” Gary replied. “I thought they went out when the new Captain came in.”

Wade shrugged. “Sometimes. If the Captain and Minister die in battle, then the new Captain sends out a request. Hell, once a Captain sent his onboard Minister into combat to die just so he could get a new one. Kind of barbaric, so they made a new dispensation to work around that in unusual situations.”

“So, they could kick Portia out of they wanted to?”

“Well, not exactly. Portia would need to be dead, and she’s only in her forties, so that isn’t likely to happen.”

“Or they have to ask.”

“Yeah, and that looks bad on the Captain since the Envoy is the spiritual leader of the ship. If that does happen, a Captain can specifically choose his Minister.”

“Ah, so they ask you to send them someone. Doesn’t matter who.”

“Basically,” Wade said. “We can’t really refuse because Capital Ships are essentially sovereign planets, apart from the rest of the government. If they request someone, then that person ceases to be a part of the Ministry and can do whatever they...”

Wade trailed off.

“…want?” Gary offered helpfully. Wade didn’t even notice.

“Gary, I need to go,” he said suddenly.

“What’s the rush?”

“I have to send a message,” he said. “A very, very important message.”

He didn’t wait for a response but took off for the ramp to his ship. He could send the message from his Captain’s quarters.

There is a precedent for it, he told himself. Captains have complete and total authority over their ship, so if the Captain wants something, it happens. 

Captains didn’t usually last very long. It was a cutthroat world with a lot of competition and high stakes, but the reward was almost inscrutable power. They were autonomous entities, capable of enacting justice on behalf of the entire galaxy with few repercussions.

A great many of them were trigger-happy lunatics, bordering on paranoid, desperate to prove their value to the ruling Aristocracy and First Citizen. 

Captain Schmidt hadn’t been like that. He was a good man, fair and honest. A good peacetime leader. He chose Portia Nace as his Envoy, making her the religious leader of his ship. That made her the embodiment of the Ministry, and thus God, equal even to the Minister himself while aboard Denigen’s Fist. Portia was friendly and matronly, prone to overindulgence and long-winded sermons. 

If the Captain did want to remove Portia without killing her, there was a special request that had to be made. It was, essentially, a wartime edict, but one which Wade could fulfill personally. They would send Portia home and request a new Envoy.

And the only catch…the only requirement was that the new Envoy was a member of the Ministry. 

Like his daughter.

It was unheard of, but not entirely. One of the greatest Ministerial Envoys in history, credited with spreading the word to two thousand and twenty heathen worlds, became a ship’s Envoy when he was seventeen years old. His life was shrouded in rumor and exaggeration, but the root facts were incontrovertible. It happened a thousand years ago, and he also wasn’t six years old like Abigail, but it meant it was possible.

Wade could sell the idea to the new Captain by saying he would have the opportunity to groom a new Envoy to the position. Acclimate her to the ship over time and have a true champion of the faith that the crew would come to treasure.

Wade pressed the button to open the door to his chambers, at least thirty times in his haste. He fell into the chair in front of his terminal and it flickered to life. He didn’t know which Captain was slated to inherit Denigen’s Fist now that Schmidt was gone, but he could worry about that later.

He began composing a message, addressing it simply ‘Captain.’ 

It is with the greatest pleasure that I am able to offer my congratulations on your promotion. I regret, however, that I must be as blunt and direct as befits your position and rank.

I am aware that the current Envoy onboard the Denigen’s Fist is Sister Portia Nace, an excellent and superannuated woman. However, it is my duty to ensure that the continued operation of Denigen’s Fist is both satisfactory and beneficial to the Ministry as well as yourself. I would also like to inform you that, should you wish to discuss a possible replacement for the Sister, I might have a more than adequate option…

He finished drafting the message on his communication terminal. He let out a long breath of air and leaned back in his chair, torn. If he sent this, he would be committed to following it through. There was no going back. If the Captain decided to take the message straight to the Minister, then Wade would be murdered, and his daughter would likely be tortured anyway.

But if the Captain liked his proposal… 

Wade reached out gingerly and hit the ‘send’ key on his terminal. This is either the cleverest decision I’ve ever made…

Or the worst.



“What now?” Vivian asked.

Argus Wade was in a good mood. They were only an hour from receiving launch clearance and things were falling into place. He hadn’t received a reply from his message to Denigen’s Fist, but he was almost certain what the response would be. It was an insane proposal, but brilliant; any Captain would be thrilled to have someone so young aboard their ship.

Envoys were considered the Captain’s equal, and many members of the crew deferred to them because of the spiritual aspect of their station. They represented God’s might aboard a ship. A six-year-old girl would pose no threat to the Captain’s authority.

The Captain would accept his proposal and his daughter would be safe. The Minister wouldn’t even have reason to look into her parentage because it would be the Captain submitting the request for the girl. Wade’s name wouldn’t be on any of the paperwork.

Sure, it might be strange for the Captain to request someone so young, but once she was aboard Denigen’s Fist, she would be outside the Minister’s reach. She and Wade would be safe.

Most importantly, she would never be beaten or tortured, and she would never receive one of those God-awful implants. She could live a normal life like little girls were supposed to.

Well, mostly normal.

“Now we travel to Sector Six. We’ll make a stop at Terminus along the way for supplies, and we should be there within a few weeks.”

“What kind of supplies?” Vivian asked. “I thought we were fully stocked?”

“Machinery and equipment. The people in Sector Six are living in the past. They will pay a fortune for new tech.”

“Or they will kill us and take it,” Vivian said.

“That’s why you’re here,” Wade said. “I make deals, you keep me safe, and Jeremiah preaches on behalf of the Ministry. Everyone wins!”

“Everyone?” Vivian said coolly. “What about your daughter? What happens when you get back?”

“It’s taken care of,” Wade said.

Vivian narrowed her eyes.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“What did you do?”

“I’m not going to do anything. But there is a very good chance that the oncoming Captain of Denigen’s Fist will put a request in for a new Envoy in the next few weeks.”

Vivian stared at Wade.

“Stop looking at me like that.”

“The Minister will kill you.”

“Maybe,” Wade said. “But he won’t be able to kill her.”

Vivian hesitated. “No, he won’t, but you’ll still be dead.”

“And I’m okay with that,” Wade said. “When you have kids, you’ll understand.”

“You mean ‘if.’”

“I mean ‘when,’” Wade said, smirking. “Besides, if things work out how I think they will, no one will ever know what happened anyway. I’m not really planning on dying because of this.”

Vivian shrugged. “No one ever does.”

“Have you spoken to the new pilot yet?”

“Not yet,” Vivian replied.

Wade nodded and headed out the door. The ship was sleek and compact and impeccably clean. He’d purchased it a few months ago using Ministry funds for these sort of missions, and he was careful to ensure it was only assigned to missions he was participating in. He technically didn’t own the ship, but he’d be damned if anyone else was going to be allowed to use it.

“Something else,” Wade said. “Do you mind bringing the Cudgel as well?”

“My ship?” Vivian asked. “Why?”

“We are bringing a lot of soldiers because it’s new territory, and I want to be sure—”

“You want more cargo space,” she said, making a tsk-ing sound and shaking her head. “It’s all about profit to you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer I lie? I’ll give almost all of the money we make to the Ministry, so it’s for the benefit of everyone.”

“You’re something else.”

“Does that mean you’ll do it?”


He nodded. “Good, I’ll send one of the pilots over—”

“No way,” she said. “I’ll fly my own ship.”

“Fair enough,” he said. He clicked open the door to the cockpit. A man in his late twenties to early thirties was sitting at the controls. He had wavy brown hair and round cheeks.

“Oh,” the man said, jumping up from the chair and standing at attention. “Uh...sir.”

Wade laughed. He couldn’t help it. “Sir? No one calls me sir. Call me Wade.”

“All right,” the man said.

“And you are?”

“Jack. Jack Lane. I’m the pilot.”

“I think that last detail was implied.”

Jack didn’t seem to have a good answer.

“Where’s the other one?”

“He’s, uh...sleeping, sir. I mean Wade. In his bunk.”

Wade nodded. “Are you ready to fly this thing?”

“I believe so. I’ve never been trained on anything this advanced, but I think I understand the controls. The autopilot will do most of the work. I’m just here in case of a malfunction or abnormality.”

“And you are our guide?”


“You grew up in Sector Six before moving to the Core.”

“Yes,” Jack said. “But it’s been many years.”

“What should we expect?”

“There are several planets, loosely connected under a Royal Family. Geid and Eldun are farming planets, but Eldun isn’t politically stable. Geid is where I grew up. Most of the crops are shipped off of that world to feed the Capital Planet, Jaril.”

“Where would you recommend that we start?”

“Jaril might not let us land. They don’t like the Republic, and they sure as hell don’t like outside religions. They will probably attack on sight if they know you are with the Ministry. But if you go somewhere else without at least checking in at Jaril, then there could be consequences.”

“Is there much travel between Jaril and Sector Four?”

“Almost none,” Jack replied. “But the warp routes are fickle and many ships are lost each year. Too many stars in close proximity, so every few years the gravity changes and routes need to be adjusted. Most people just don’t risk it.”

Wade nodded. It was what he’d been expecting. His government had never bothered to expand into Sector Six, marking it simply ‘uncharted territory’ on regional maps. It wasn’t worth the risk. Terminus was a small planet at the farthest edge of Sector Four, butting up against Sector Six.

The problem was, they would need to fly close to Tellus if they were going to make it to Terminus. Tellus was where Darius was starting his little rebellion, and even though it wouldn’t pose a threat to the galaxy, it would certainly be a problem for Wade’s little ship.

He doubted they would notice, though. Tellus was a backwater planet, rundown and old. They probably wouldn’t even have radars capable of detecting ships this small.

“In general,” Jack said, “they pretty much hate the Republic back home. Especially on Jaril and Eldun. They consider us to be an Empire, expanding and stealing as we go. If they know where we come from...”

Wade thought about it and then shrugged. “So, we don’t tell them we’re from here. We’ll say we’re traders from Terminus. Won’t be a difficult disguise to pull off.”

“Sounds good,” Jack agreed.

“All right then,” Wade said, smiling in excitement. He slapped Jack on the shoulder. “Let’s head to Sector Six!”

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