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Cobra Slave

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Cobra Slave

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Author: Timothy Zahn
Publisher: Baen, 2013
Series: Cobra Rebellion: Book 1

1. Cobra Slave
2. Cobra Outlaw
3. Cobra Traitor

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Book One of the Cobra Rebellion Saga, and a new entry in New York Times #1 best seller Timothy Zahn's legendary Cobra series.

Cobras: technologically-enhanced warriors bred to fight an alien menace no ordinary human can withstand. At the center of action on Cobra world Aventine: the legendary Moreau clan. In times of war, the Cobras are necessary, yet in times of peace they are often reviled by those they have saved. Now the Cobras have resisted a second invasion of the alien Troft forces, and forced the Troft to a stalemate -- and even converted some thoughtful Troft into uneasy allies against their kin.

Yet all is not well in the human sector of the galaxy. A supposed sister empire, the Dominion of Man, threatens the Cobra worlds with what is, in effect, enslavement, as it moves to consolidate power over all the Cobra worlds. The plan on Aventine: to extort from the Moreau family the location of the home planet of a mysterious human ally that may be more powerful than the Dominion: the Qasaman empire.

Meanwhile, Cobra Merrick Moreau is on a secret mission of his own to a world of humans enslaved by Troft masters. It is a world of barbaric cruelty where human are slave chattel to Troft gamblers. There the Troft force whole villages, even children, into life and death struggles served up for Troft entertainment.

But the totalitarian Dominion of Man and the Troft game-masters are in for a rude surprise: Cobras are not merely technological marvels. They are far more. For within each Cobra, bred by close family ties and hard testing in battle, there beats the heart of a warrior and the burning conviction that a Cobra will be slave to no one. Rebellion is at hand, and once again, Cobras lead the fight for freedom.



There was no reason, Captain Barrington Jame Moreau thought moodily as he gazed out the twist-glass canopy of the Dominion of Man War Cruiser Dorian's flying bridge, for a spaceship to even have a flying bridge. None at all.

There'd been a reason once, he knew, hundreds of years ago. Flying bridges had been created for ocean-going vessels to provide the pilot with a three-quarter-view visibility when coming in to dock.

But visibility and visual docking procedures had long since become irrelevant. Spacecraft had a wide array of active and passive sensor systems, and docking was handled by radar, laser-burst, and computerized transponders, without any need for human involvement. On top of that, a vehicle designed for the vacuum of space obviously couldn't have anything that was actually open. Especially not a warship.

And yet, in defiance of all apparent logic, the Dorian did indeed have a flying bridge. It wasn't much, little more than a five-meter-long half dome nestled snugly against the upper side above the main hull and just in front of the rising bulk of the Number Three-Twenty-Six water storage tank. It even had its own piloting console, a helm repeater that the Dorian's records showed had been checked out during the warship's shakedown cruise fifteen years ago and never used again. The flying bridge was still manned during battle stations, but it was never used.

So why, his fellow midshipmen back at the academy had asked, was it still here?

Barrington snorted under his breath as he gazed out at the planet turning lazily below. For that matter, why and how were Aventine and the rest of the so-called Cobra Worlds still here?

By all rights, they shouldn't be. It had been a hundred years since these colonies had been founded out in the middle of nowhere, a long and weary three-months' journey from the Dominion through the very center of the Troft Assemblage. It had been nearly seventy-five years since that safe-passage corridor had been forcibly closed, leaving the colonists to struggle on alone. The general consensus of the Dorian's officers throughout the voyage had been that the colonies must surely have died off by now, and that the mission they'd been sent on was so much wasted time and effort.

Yet, here they were, strong and vibrant and even reasonably populous. And not only had they survived seven decades of being cut off from the rest of humanity, but they'd apparently even made it through their own brief war against the Trofts.

Barrington scowled. He'd seen some of Aventine, and he'd seen a lot of the capital city of Capitalia, and he'd read a great deal about the Troft incursions into Silvern and Adirondack back in the Dominion of Man a century ago. Cobra Worlds Governor-General Michaelo Chintawa claimed that Aventine had been invaded, but in Barrington's view the virtual lack of damage to their cities made that claim suspicious. The fuzziness of Chintawa's testimony, and that of the other governmental and patroller officials, didn't help their credibility any.

Still, something had happened here. And if it hadn't been dramatic in Capitalia, it had more than made up for that elsewhere. There were places in Aventine's so-called expansion regions that had taken more serious damage, and the courier ship that had visited Palatine had reported similar evidence of brief occupation.

On Caelian, the world no one seemed to like to talk about, there was not only serious damage to the human settlements, but the wreckage of no fewer than three Troft warships. Whether or not the incident had been an actual war, it had clearly been more than just a heavily armed trade dispute. Some group of Trofts had moved on the Cobra Worlds, and those same Trofts had been kicked right back off again.

The question was who exactly had done the kicking. The even more crucial question was whether that situation could be recreated.

Had the Cobra Worlds' saviors been some other group of Trofts? There was testimony and evidence that at least two Troft demesnes had been here peaceably since the invaders pulled out. If there was some Troft infighting going on, and if that rivalry could be encouraged, the Dominion's mission would be a whole lot easier.

Or had it been the mysterious people who called themselves the Qasamans? Chintawa and the other Aventinian leaders disliked talking about Qasama even more than they disliked talking about Caelian, and all the records the techs had been able to find were vague and thirty years out of date. But the testimony of the Cobra Paul Broom and his family indicated that the Qasamans had overcome even worse Troft oppression than the Cobra Worlds themselves had. If they could be found, they might prove useful allies.

Or had the key to victory been the Cobras?

Barrington's comm toned with his first officer's ident. Double-twitching his left eyelid, Barrington brought up the projector in his cornea.

The hazy image of Commander Ling Garrett appeared. "Captain, a Troft ship has just entered the system," Garrett said, his voice stiff with the formality he always reserved for the times when someone on the Megalith was listening in. "Our sector. He identifies himself as a merchant from the Hoibe'ryi'sarai demesne with a cargo of food and musical equipment."

"Musical equipment?" Barrington echoed, frowning.

"So he says," Garrett said. "He's given us the names of his buyers in Capitalia, Rosecliff, and Pindar. We're attempting to make contact with them."

Barrington peered out at the blaze of stars stretched out behind Aventine and the three Dominion ships. Musical equipment? "Is he armed?"

"Meteor point-defense lasers only," Garrett said. "We've got them tagged, just in case. Team Seven is prepped and loaded if you want a closer look at his cargo holds."

"Hold, but keep them prepped," Barrington told him. "Keep trying the buyers. I'll be right down."

The Command Nexus/Coordination Hub was six decks below the flying bridge, sealed behind multiple layers of steel, twist-carfibe, and compressed neutcap. Barrington's aide, Lieutenant Cottros Meekan, was waiting by the elevator when the doors opened. "Captain in CoNCH," he called formally, stiffening to full attention as Barrington stepped out onto the upper level of the complex's two decks. Apparently, whoever on the Megalith was eavesdropping on the Dorian's CoNCH had the visual going, too.

"As you were," Barrington called, striding past Meekan and heading for the command chair. Garrett was currently seated there, his eyes on the forward status displays; without even looking up, he stood and stepped aside just in time for Barrington to take his place.

"Status?" Barrington asked, permitting himself a small, cold smile as he settled himself in the chair. If whoever was watching from the Megalith was hoping to find some breach in procedure or protocol that the Dorian's officers or crew could be disciplined for, he was going to have a long wait. Barrington had been trained in the fine art of politics by the very best, and he'd been playing the game for a long, long time.

"No response yet from Rosecliff or Pindar, but we've reached the Capitalia buyers," Garrett reported. "All four confirm that they're awaiting shipments, and they've sent us copies of their invoice orders." He pointed to one of the displays. "They match the relevant sections of the merchant's inventory list."

"So they do," Barrington agreed, running his eye briefly down the items and numbers and then focusing on the musical equipment section. There wasn't a single word on that particular list that he recognized. "Did you ask the music buyer what his shipment consisted of?"

"He said they were performance instruments," Garrett said. "Wind class, mainly--he called them copper-zincs."

"What's wrong with standard Dominion performance instruments?" Barrington asked.

Garrett's shoulders hunched microscopically. "I don't know, sir. I didn't ask."

Barrington looked back at the displays, half inclined to get on the radio to the buyer and ask the question himself. But it really wasn't the kind of detail a Dominion ship captain should personally get involved with.

Meekan might have sensed his indecision. "May I remind the Captain that the next set of hearings are scheduled to begin in ninety minutes," he murmured.

Barrington felt his lip twist. Yes--Cobra Lorne Broom's final day of testimony. And it wouldn't do for the Dorian's captain to arrive at the hearings after Commodore Santores made his appearance. "Is my launch prepped?"

"Prepped and awaiting your orders."

"Have the pilot begin the final checklist," Barrington said, standing up and stepping away from the chair. "Commander, you have CoNCH."

"Yes, sir," Garrett said, sitting down again. "Do you want Team Seven to check out the Troft's cargo?"

Barrington looked over at the long-range display and the Troft spacecraft centered there. In theory, any Troft action or presence posed a potential threat. Certainly many of the Dorian's officers and crewers believed that. So did the majority of the military leaders on Asgard and their political masters in the Dome.

But Asgard and the Dome were a long ways away, and the situation here on the far side of the Travis Assemblage appeared to be very different from the one at the Dominion's borders.

And if the Trofts out here really did fight among themselves... "Secure Team Seven and let the merchant pass," he told Garrett. "But keep its lasers tagged."

"Yes, sir," Garrett said.

"And alert Colonel Reivaro to their approach," he added as he headed toward the elevator. "Suggest to him that he might want a couple of his men standing by at the spaceport when those copper-zincs are unloaded."

A minute later he was back in the elevator car, glowering at the universe as he headed for the tender bay. Over the past five days he and the other investigators had had to wade through more evasion and self-serving doublespeak than he'd heard in a long, long time. Most of that fog was coming from Aventine's government officials and patroller chiefs, all of whom seemed to have something to hide about their roles in the recent Troft invasion.

But at least today there should be little or none of that. The Broom family---Paul, Jasmine, and Lorne--seemed far more forthright and honest about what the Cobras and the leaders had done during the invasion.

Or, in some cases, what they hadn't done.

Barrington turned his eyes upward. Back at the academy, the prevailing theory had been that flying bridges were simply vestiges of days gone by, places that served no purpose but were a fond memory of the distant past. From the bits of conversation he'd overheard, it appeared that most of his officers were ready to put Aventine's Cobras into the same category.

But unlike his fellows, Barrington hadn't simply accepted the common wisdom on flying bridges. He'd hunted down their history and reasoning, digging until he uncovered the cold-edged logic behind their existence.

He had every intention of doing the same with the Cobras.


For nearly a century, the Cobras had been the Cobra Worlds' primary defenders, policemen, and hunters. At one time or another, they'd also been political powers, political liabilities, and political pawns. Their prestige had fluctuated from decade to decade, from region to region, and from social class to social class. Those who depended most on Cobra protection, whether in Aventine's expansion regions or on the ecological hell world of Caelian, tended to be their strongest supporters. Those who lived in the relative safety of the big cities, particularly those who paid the lion's share of the taxes, were usually the loudest in their clamoring for a better, cheaper way.

But even the Cobras' detractors conceded that they were the visible symbol of the five Cobra Worlds. As such, their dress uniforms were the finest that successive generations of designers and lovers of pomp and ceremony had been able to create.

Next to the military uniforms of the Dominion of Man, those dress uniforms looked positively shabby.

The Dominion uniforms were the first thing Lorne Broom had noticed on his initial visit to Governor-General Chintawa's private conference room. That wasn't all that surprising, really, given the blaze of royal blue shimmer, gold braid and rank epaulets, and neat rows of intricately detailed medal triangles across the officers' upper chests. They were outfits that were clearly designed to be impressive, intimidating, and more than a little arrogant.

Or maybe it was just the uniforms' wearers who were intimidating and arrogant, and not the uniforms themselves. After yesterday's long hours of testimony, Lorne still wasn't certain which it was.

Hopefully, by the end of today he would either know for sure or would never have to concern himself with it again.

"Welcome back, Cobra Broom," Commodore Rubo Santores greeted him as two of the uniformed Cobras ushered Lorne to the witness chair in front of the long table and the five Dominion officers seated behind it. "We appreciate your willingness to give us another day of your time."

"Thank you, Commodore," Lorne said politely. Like he'd actually had a choice in the matter.

"I trust you had a good night's rest?" one of the others asked blandly.

Lorne focused on him. Most of the Dominion officers had just sat there during his previous day of testimony, listening closely but otherwise keeping silent. Even Santores seemed to prefer asking short, simple questions and then letting Lorne ramble on at his own pace.

Not so Colonel Milorad Reivaro. He was the whistling image of the stereotypical courtroom bully lawyer, questioning every little nittery error, misstatement, or perceived contradiction. His attitude had quickly turned the room's atmosphere from that of a simple debriefing into something more akin to an enemy interrogation.

And if there weren't any errors Reivaro could find to jump on, the man seemed to enjoy being simply and straightforwardly annoying.

Like he was being right now. "As a matter of fact, last night was very unrestful," Lorne told him, working hard to keep his tone civil. His father, mother, and Great Uncle Corwin had all warned him--repeatedly--not to let Reivaro's barbs get under his skin. "For some reason Ms. Gendreves thought midnight would be the perfect time to serve a search order and have my temporary quarters turned upside down."

"Really," Reivaro said. He didn't sound perturbed or surprised by the news. "What precisely was the Governor-General's office looking for?"

Lorne resisted the urge to look over at Governor-General Chintawa, sitting quiet and alone behind the clerk's desk at the side of the room. "I really can't say," he told Reivaro. "You'd have to ask Ms. Gendreves."

"She didn't bother to specify?"

"I didn't bother to listen."

"I'm sure anything of interest will be sent to us along proper channels," Santores said. His voice was casual enough, but Lorne had seen this happen a couple of times yesterday. Reivaro had apparently been granted a long leash, but play period was over and it was time to get back to work.

Sure enough, Reivaro leaned back in his seat. "Of course, sir," he said. "I'm sure Cobra Broom is anxious to get back to his hunting duties out in Donyang province."

"DeVegas province," Lorne corrected mildly. On an impulse, he keyed in the infrared part of his optical enhancers. "I'm stationed in DeVegas, not Donyang."

On the infrared view, Reivaro's face changed color slightly as his skin flushed with extra blood. Lorne's generation of Cobra enhancements had the fine-tuning necessary to watch for the subtle signs of anger or embarrassment, and he had the satisfaction of seeing both emotions flick across the colonel's face.

It was childish, he knew, to correct the man's error in front of his fellow officers and the Cobra Worlds' governor-general. But he had to admit it felt good.

And at least he didn't follow up the spike with a bland smile. Reivaro, he felt sure, would have done that.

"Correction noted," Santores said.

Lorne shifted his attention to the commodore. The other's voice was suddenly very formal. He wasn't smiling, either, blandly or otherwise.

"I thought the record should be kept straight," Lorne said, matching the other's tone.

"So it should," Santores said. "Perhaps we can move on to actual testimony now?"

"Of course," Lorne said, feeling his face flush with belated annoyance at himself. He would probably hear about this later from his parents and Uncle Corwin. "I believe we were in the middle of the battle of Azras."

"Let's go back a bit to your trip from Caelian to Qasama," Santores said, twitching his left eyelid once. From what Lorne had been able to glean from bits of conversation, that was how Dominion people accessed their communications and data search systems. "You said you traveled aboard a ship of the Tlos'khin'fahi demesne?"

"That's correct," Lorne said, frowning. Yesterday's testimony had progressed far beyond that particular point. Why in the Worlds was Santores going all the way back to Caelian now? "The Tlossie second heir, Ingidi-inhiliziyo, took us aboard his ship at Caelian--"

"You and the Isis equipment," Reivaro put in.

"Yes," Lorne said, suppressing a sigh. Inevitably, it seemed, the conversation somehow always came back to Isis. The Integrated Structural Implantation System that Dr. Glas Croi and the Troft demesne-heir Ingidi-inhiliziyo had created--the automated surgical machinery that the Aventine press had unimaginatively labeled the Cobra Factory--had become a virtual obsession with Reivaro.

And it didn't take a genius to see that dragging up Isis every chance he got didn't bode well for the treason charges looming over the whole Broom family. Nissa Gendreves was pushing hard to turn her formal charges into a formal trial, and though Chintawa had so far been able to sidetrack her with procedural tricks, those delaying tactics had to be close to bottoming out. Santores had made it clear that if the Cobra Worlds weren't prepared to deal with the charges quickly and efficiently, the commodore himself was.

On the other hand...

Lorne stole a quick look at the man to Santores's left. Sitting straight and tall, his face composed and unreadable, was Captain Barrington Moreau, commander of the Dorian and decorated member of the Dominion Fleet.

And, perhaps more significantly, Lorne's mother Jin's second cousin.

Why was he here? That was the question the family had been pondering ever since their first polite but somewhat strained meeting with Barrington a few days ago. Their conversation had been hurried, sandwiched between the parade of official testimonies, and they hadn't gotten very far past the pleasantries and what Lorne's father Paul called reception-room chatter. To Lorne, the formal tone of the meeting had made it feel almost like an afterthought, as if Barrington had been idly reading up on family history during the long voyage and suddenly discovered he was related to some of the original Cobra Worlds' colonists.

Which was absurd, of course. According to Santores, the three warships had taken eight months to circle around the Troft and Minthisti-controlled sections of space on their voyage here. The Dominion Military Command would hardly have plucked Barrington and his ship from whatever duty they'd been on and sent them along just on some random whim.

Unless it hadn't been the military's idea at all.

Lorne's great-grandfather Jonny Moreau had died relatively young, suffering from anemia, arthritis, and all the rest of the physical ailments that still plagued the men who volunteered their lives to become Cobras. It was a foreshortened future Lorne himself was facing, and one he tried very hard not to think about. But Jonny's brother Jame had been a few years younger than he was, and hadn't carried the handicap of Cobra gear inside his body. Moreover, at the time the Dominion and Cobra Worlds lost contact, Jame had been on the fast track to becoming a member of the Dominion's Central Committee.

Could Jame Moreau still be alive? He would be somewhere around a hundred and twenty by now, a decade or two beyond the best lifespan anyone on the Cobra Worlds had yet been able to manage. But Lorne had no idea what the current state of Dominion medicine was; and whatever that state was, Dominion Committés would certainly have the benefits of the very best of it.

And if Jame was alive, could he still be in power? Or at least have the ear of the people in power?

Could it have been Jame Moreau himself who'd pulled strings so that his grandson Barrington could come and see what had become of this branch of his family?

"While you were aboard the Tlos'khin'fahi ship," Santores continued, "did you ever have occasion to enter the command or navigational areas?"

Lorne snapped his attention back from his musings. The command area? What kind of question was that? "I was on the bridge a couple of times, yes," he said.

"Were you close enough to get a look at any of the navigational readouts?"

"I don't know," Lorne said.

"It's a simple question," Reivaro put in impatiently. "Did you get close enough to the navigational displays to read them, or didn't you?"

"And I said I don't know," Lorne repeated. "Even if I was, I certainly wasn't paying any attention to them."

"Because you were focusing on how to get Isis down and into Qasaman hands?"

"Because we were focusing on how to win the damn war," Lorne shot back.

"Which you did," Santores said, inclining his head slightly. "And our sincerest congratulations on that."

He twitched his eyelid again. "As you said a moment ago, yesterday's session ended with your attack on the Troft warship outside Azras. Let's go ahead and pick it up from there."


Captain Joshti Lij Tulu of the Algonquin muttered a curse. "Unbelievable," he said, twitching his eyelid to close off the data stream. "One world, against a combined invasion force of at least three Troft demesnes?"

"And without any modern weapons," Barrington added.

"No, I literally mean unbelievable," Lij Tulu growled. "Broom is lying. There has to be more to this."

"Like what?" Barrington asked.

"Like maybe the Qasamans had a lot more help than Broom says they did," Lij Tulu said. "These three demesnes--the Tlos'khin'fahi, Hoibe'ryi'sarai and--what's the other one?--the Chrii'pra'pfwoi. Maybe they're the ones who intervened and kicked the invaders off the planet."

"Why would he lie?" Barrington asked.

"Please," Lij Tulu said scornfully. "Can't you hear it in his voice? He's madly in love with these Qasamans--the whole damn Broom family is. He'd say anything--he'd believe anything--that made them look superhuman."

"If they're so superhuman, why did they need the Isis equipment?" Barrington countered.

At the head of the table, Santores stirred. "It doesn't matter how they threw the invaders off Qasama," he said quietly. "Whether they did it themselves or had strong enough ties with the Tlos'khin'fahi and others to get them to do it for them, the point remains that they did drive the invaders away. And not just from Qasama, either, but apparently from the Cobra Worlds, as well."

"With a lot of help from Caelian, if Nissa Gendreves's testimony is to be believed," Barrington reminded him.

"Yes," Santores murmured. "I'm thinking that we've found exactly what we're looking for." His lips compressed. "Except that we haven't really found it, have we?"

For a moment the room was silent. "We could, though," Lij Tulu said.

Barrington twitched up the data stream and ran it down the transcript of Lorne Broom's testimony, feeling a swirl of conflict churning through his stomach. It was necessary, he knew.

But necessary or not, the boy was kin, his second cousin once removed. What Lij Tulu was suggesting... "What if we tried the parents again?" he suggested. "They were all in the Troft control room together, and they may be able to see the big picture better than their son."

"Are you serious?" Lij Tulu scoffed. "Paul Broom owes the Qasamans his leg. Jasmine Broom owes them her life. I'd rank those beside hero worship any day of the month." He looked back at Santores. "Commodore, we've asked for cooperation. We haven't gotten it. In my opinion, it's time to bring in the MindsEye."

"Your intent being to use it on the Brooms?" Barrington shook his head. "My patron would strongly oppose any such suggestion."

"Your patron's not here," Lij Tulu countered tartly. "And we have a job to do." He raised his eyebrows. "Commodore?"

"I agree the MindsEye is our best hope at this point," Santores said. "But there's a problem. I'd hoped Colonel Reivaro's public focus on the Isis project would pressure Chintawa to back down to the point where we could take custody of the Brooms. Unfortunately, it's also motivated Nissa Gendreves to push that much harder to have the family tried by the Cobra Worlds government. It looks to me like that Chintawa is starting to lean that direction, and once any such trial begins the family will be off-limits to us."

"Why do we care what Chintawa and Gendreves want or don't want?" Lij Tulu growled. "We're the Dominion of Man. If we want the Brooms, why can't we just take them?"

"Because we also want to maintain good relations with the local leadership," Santores said firmly. "Until we know everything about this place, including how the various Troft demesnes fit into the picture, we need their cooperation."

"But the Brooms are charged with treason," Lij Tulu said. "The locals have to grant authority to us, don't they?"

"In theory, yes," Santores said. "But there are two problems. I've looked through the statutes, including the original Cobra Worlds charter. It appears there's no provision for an accredited Dominion force to assume power."

Lij Tulu stared. "That's insane," he said. "That provision's always in planetary charters."

"It is now; it apparently wasn't back then," Santores said. "Don't forget, the whole purpose behind the Cobra Worlds was to have a place where Dome could get rid of the Cobra war veterans before their presence became a danger to the Dominion as a whole. I can see some short-sighted Committé rationalizing that no one was ever going to come out here again and therefore not bothering to add it to their charter."

"Then simply tell them charges of treason supersede their charter."

"I would," Santores agreed. "Except for one small problem. I asked Captain Moreau to look into it, and it appears that by Dominion law what the Brooms have done isn't treason."

Lij Tulu turned to Barrington. "You're joking."

"Isis is Cobra, and Cobra is hundred-year-old technology," Barrington pointed out. "They might as well have given the Qasamans the secret to making iron cannon."

"But--" Lij Tulu sputtered. "All right, fine. Maybe we can't grab Lorne Broom and lock him up aboard the Algonquin for a week. But what about six hours? Can I have him for six hours?"

Barrington felt his stomach tighten. There it was: the end game he'd known Lij Tulu would eventually get to. "You're not serious," he said.

"Why not?" Lij Tulu shot back. "I can have MindsEye disassembled and brought down here by twenty-two-hundred tonight. We make sure Lorne sticks around overnight, maybe tell him we need another round of hearings tomorrow. If we work through the night we can have everything reassembled and recalibrated by oh-six-hundred. We take him from his quarters, plug him in, and see what we get."

"What we'll probably get is a dead Cobra and a furious local government," Barrington said darkly. "Commodore, you can't seriously consider such an action."

"Because your patron wouldn't approve?" Lij Tulu countered.

"Because it isn't necessary," Barrington said. "Not yet. We're not ready to move yet anyway. There's time to explore other avenues."

"Such as?" Lij Tulu demanded. "Don't misunderstand, Captain, I'm all for doing this the easy way if possible. But you can count on one hand the number of people on Aventine who've ever been to Qasama, or have traveled to Qazadi aboard a Troft ship. They're all the same fingers, and they're all in the Broom family."

"Maybe there's something we haven't thought of," Barrington persisted. "Regardless, it wouldn't hurt to wait a little longer before doing something that drastic."

"In theory, I agree," Santores said. "But if and when Gendreves is able to force Chintawa into putting the Brooms on trial, we'll lose even short-term access. The family will be put into detention under Capitalia's control, and we won't be able to borrow one of them even for six hours."

"We will once the trial's over," Barrington persisted.

"Only if they're acquitted," Lij Tulu countered. "Even if they are, a trial could take months. We can't afford to wait that long."

For another moment the room was silent. Barrington forced himself to take deep, slow breaths, thinking furiously. The thought of bringing his patron a report of the deliberate destruction of one of the Moreau family...

But Lij Tulu was right. Santores wanted Qasama, and the only people who might be able to get him there were the Brooms.

And Barrington was sworn to obey his commander's orders, and the laws and statutes of the Dominion of Man. He could try to talk Santores into a different course of action. But if that failed there was nothing else he could do.

"You say you can have MindsEye ready by morning?" Santores asked.

"Yes, sir," Lij Tulu confirmed. "Provided I give the order within the next hour."

"Then do so," Santores said.

"My patron would object strenuously," Barrington said, trying one last time.

"Were he here," Lij Tulu said pointedly.

"Were he here," Barrington conceded. "In his absence, I wish to go on record as protesting this course of action."

"So noted," Santores said. "I presume, Captain, you'll want to start with Lorne?"

"Yes, sir," Lij Tulu said. "As I said earlier, his parents in deeper emotional debt to the Qasamans and will therefore have more resistance." He looked at Barrington. "And of course, his younger age will give him a better chance of surviving the procedure."

"We know where he is?" Santores asked.

"At his great uncle Corwin Moreau's house, that little estate thing they call the Island," Lij Tulu said. "Colonel Reivaro has a car watching him. Shall I have them go in and bring him out?"

"No," Santores said. There was some reluctance behind his eyes, Barrington could see. But his voice was the rock-solidness of a man who's made his decision. "No, we'll let him have a final good meal with his family. Just have the car follow him back to the Dome--" He broke off, shaking his head. "I can't believe they had the gall to actually name this place the Dome. As if it could ever actually compare. At any rate, have the colonel's men follow him back here and make sure he settles in."

"He will," Lij Tulu promised, his fingers twitching as he made notes into the Algonquin's data stream. "He certainly has no reason not to. He's not scheduled to head back to DeVegas until tomorrow."

"Good," Santores said. "Once he's settled back into his quarters, have the colonel inform him that we'll want him at a closed session tomorrow at oh-six-hundred."

"Yes, sir," Lij Tulu said, making a final note. "I'll arrange for an escort to meet him then and walk him over."

"Good." Santores looked at Barrington. "Hopefully, by this time tomorrow we'll have Qasama's location."

"Or else Lorne Broom will be dead," Barrington said stiffly.

Santores's lip twitched. "Yes," he said. "Or else he'll be dead."

Copyright © 2013 by Timothy Zahn


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