Dangerous Games



  

 Part One

 STRAYS

 
1242 new time
I came to the place of my birth and cried,“The friends of my youth, where are they?” And echo answered, “Where are they?”
 - Arab saying
ALEJANDRO CRISTOBAL MARQUEZ PUT HIS hands behind his back and stood amid
the dim lights and harsh noises of the portside bar. His palms were slippery with sweat and his chest
tightened; he hoped that his anxiety and hatred did not show in his face. Before him, the tall, dark-
skinned tauCaptain rocked his chair back, put his feet on the table, and skimmed the contents of
Sandro’s Certificate. The blue light of the Certificate’s readout flickered across the tauCaptain’s
face, imparting a demonic look to the high cheekbones and oriental eyes. Sandro cautiously relaxed
his clenched hands and resisted the urge to look around, convinced that the other spacers were
grinning and poking each other with their elbows. They had watched this scene before.

The tauCaptain tapped the Certificate with his finger and the blue light faded as he tossed the
disk on the tabletop.

“It says here you’re a Second, newly commissioned,” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you want to ship with me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why?”

Sandro’s throat felt dry. “Rumor has it that you need a Second, sir. That you’ve been on
MarketPort four days over schedule, looking for one. I’m a Second by paper, not promotion . . . it’s
hard to find a berth. I took my chances.”

“Aerie-Kennerin does not ship neophytes.”

“No sir. But A-K doesn’t ship without Seconds either.” Sandro held his breath, but the
captain’s lips tilted upward. He swung his feet from the table. The front legs of the chair made a
sharp noise amid the cacophony of the bar.

“Get a chair . . . um . . .” He glanced at the Certificate. “Marquez. Am I pronouncing that
right?”

“Yes, sir.” Sandro pulled a chair to the table, feeling slightly relieved. The tauCaptain could
still turn him down, or demand of him an evening of listening and companionship before casting him
off, but could not, now, laugh and dismiss him in the publicity of the bar. The seven months since
he’d received his commission had been full of such rejections; to be turned down by this man, this
probable enemy, would especially hurt. Perhaps, he thought without much hope, this Kennerin was
a minor one; a distant cousin or a second son. Sandro sat and looked at his Certificate lying on the
table amid the collection of empty vibraglasses, then glanced at the captain. He didn’t look like a
monster.

The captain shouted an order at a passing shimmer-tray and gestured. Sandro ordered. The
tray arrived with the fresh drinks, flashed a green acceptance of the tauCaptain’s thumbprint, and
hovered over the table. The empty vibraglasses snicked out of existence, and the tray floated into the
smoky darkness.

The captain peered at Sandro’s drink. “That’s Jel-Watr,” he said accusingly. “Don’t you
drink?”

“I do, sir. But not tonight.”

“Huh.” The tauCaptain adopted a serious expression. “My name is Jes Kennerin, and I am
very, very drunk. Remember that. Also remember that I remember, if that makes any sense. Any
conditions we bind tonight, we bind finally. I don’t go back on my word. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Stop that. This is a bar, not a ship. Call me Kennerin.”

“Kennerin,” Sandro said. The name didn’t choke him. “Call me Marquez.”

The tauCaptain nodded and raised his glass. “A society of families,” he said. “Marquez.
Sounds familiar.”

“It’s not uncommon,” Sandro said, more casually than he felt. There was a Parallax agent
dead on Marquez Landing, as much a part of Sandro as the paper Second, as his pride, as the
memory of home. He evened his voice. “Not uncommon,” he said again.

“You’re probably right. Drink. I want to hear about paper training, Marquez. What in hell
does a paper trainer know about Seconding a tauship?”

“Grab mechanics,” Sandro said, relieved. “Astrogation and binary tauseep, pinpointing,
controls maintenance, invalidation process, invoicing and documentation, controls port function and
procedures, customs processes - “

Kennerin waved this away with a long hand. “Fine. You know everything there is to know,
except bow to Second a tauship. Ever been on one?”

“I came in on one, sir. Nobody’s native to MarketPort.”

“I run a class 5b/14 merchant ship, basic 17 sub 5, reconditioned to a type G rating. Tell me
about her.”

Sandro talked for half an hour. Kennerin listened, blue eyes bright in his dark face. At times
he drummed his fingers on the tabletop. Finally he waved at Sandro to stop.

“You’re wrong on that,” he said. “She’s got seven four-gee holds, not five. But that’s a
custom change. Can you ship out tomorrow?”

“I can ship out now, sir.”

“Eager, aren’t you?”

Sandro’s breath caught, but the tauCaptain took Sandro’s Certificate, skimmed through the
contracts section, and tapped the cassette for writing mode.

“Four-year contract, and I’m starting you as apprentice Second. Full Second after the first
year, if you make it. Five hundred fremarks the run for the first year, with a twelve-fremark base for
each month in space. We’ll renegotiate after you reach full Second - you’ll get crewgains then, too.
You’ll ship with me or any other A-K captain, on assignment. Standard duties, port leave, all the rest.
Agreed?”

Sandro nodded and the tauCaptain pushed his thumb at the Certificate, then offered it to
Sandro. Sandro unclenched his hands and carefully tapped in his personal code, thumbprinted the
Certificate, and slipped it into his pocket. The captain twisted in his chair and waved at a passing
tray.

Sandro took a deep breath. “I don’t think you should do that, sir.”

“What?”

“It’s the duty of a Second to make sure that all officers and crew are fit for space by end of
leavetime, sir. As your Second, I think you’ve had enough.”

Kennerin’s face hardened. “You’re not a full Second, Marquez.”

“Nonetheless, sir.”

“I have the feeling that I’ve made a very bad mistake.”

“Still.”

Kennerin stared at him and pushed away from the table. Sandro’s shoulders loosened, and
as he followed the captain from the bar he made a rude gesture at the spacers watching him. Most
of them laughed.

Spacers jostled and roared all along Dullard’s Walk. Most of the light globes were broken
and the Walk glowed in the lights of the passing colorfloats. The tauCaptain paused at the bar’s door,
shook his head, and put his hand on Sandro’s shoulder. Sandro looked at the hand, then glanced up
at the captain’s face.

“Not very tall, are you?” Kennerin said.

Sandro’s face heated. “And you’re not so short, captain. Where’s the rest of the crew?”

“Somewhere. I’ll find them. You have anything to pack?”

Sandro frowned. His small rented room contained a few extra pieces of clothing, a borrowed
book, the landlord’s battered, stale-smelling furniture - nothing he needed, nothing he couldn’t
replace, nothing he ever wanted to see again. He touched his hip pouch; it seemed sufficient luggage
for an exile. He shook his head and followed Kennerin down the crowded rowdiness of Dullard’s
Walk.

Pelican’s Nest was stuffed to the doors; its walls seemed to bulge with the beat of music that
shook the pavement but could not be heard over the rest of the noise. Spacers surrounded the Beard
of Kaipha, Lizard’s Revenge, the Frog King, and Scow’s Folly. Seven different tunes met with a
discordant jangle overhead and the colorfloats shimmered, whispering enticements to lurid,
fraudulent ecstasies. Jes Kennerin shoved his way down the Walk. Sandro, trailing in his wake,
pondered the tauCaptain’s broad shoulders and club of black hair, but they told him nothing. They
reached a public caller; the tauCaptain banged his message into it and paid with his thumb, and soon
Dullard’s Walk glowed with colorfloats carrying the captain’s insignia and flashing the boarding
signal. Sandro frowned at them.

“Will that be enough?”

“Yeah. They want to ship out as much as I do. Maybe as much as you do.” The captain
looked over the Walk, his expression unreadable, then shoved through the crowds again.
Dullard’s Walk ended at the soundscreen separating the shuttleport from the rest of the
trading station. Sandro paused at the barrier and glanced back. The Walk seemed hazy and distant,
already a part of his past. Kennerin strode toward the slidebelts, his hands in his pockets. Sandro
heard his humming but could not place the tune. His lips tightened and he walked after his captain.
The screen closed behind them.

Kennerin jumped from one slidebelt to another, turned a corner, and stepped off the belt.
Sandro followed his gesture toward the winged shuttle resting on fat, battered landing gear. It was
already pointed toward the runways. Kennerin rocked back on his heels, his hands still in his pockets,
then reached for the port maintenance box. The door slid open and the tauCaptain extracted a form.
He handed it to Sandro.

“Here, Second. See if we’re spaceworthy.”

Sandro moved closer to the box and peered at the form. Everything seemed in order. He
nodded, examined the form again, and squinted at the nose of the shuttle. A merchant ship’s shuttle
generally bore only registry numbers, but this one had a name.

“Spawn, captain?”

“That’s right.”

“It’s an unusual name, sir.”

“It’s a ridiculous name. The ship’s called Rabbit.”

Sandro looked blank. The tauCaptain tilted his head and looked at Sandro evenly. “The
rabbit’s a Terran original noted for producing lots of other rabbits in a very short time. I named it
after my family.”

“Your family, sir? I thought only owners could name tauships.”

“That’s right. You signed on with Aerie-Kennerin, Marquez. I own it.”

I own it. Sandro stared at the ship and at the tauCaptain. “I thought you, that you might be
a cousin,” he said. When Kennerin didn’t move, Sandro turned and walked to the open hatch. He
closed his eyes: unwanted visions danced across the screen of his eyelids; acres of green-black
zimania plantations, a tall, forbidding house set amid gardens, the noisy bustle of town, port, island,
world - a mocking catalog of all the things that Sandro could have owned. I own it. That, too? Sandro
thought, and when the captain touched his shoulder Sandro jumped, startled and angry. He looked
at Kennerin defensively, and the captain stared back at him with that same infuriating, distant
expression in his eyes.

“You want to back out?”

Sandro’s lips tightened and he shook his head.

“Then you’re a spacer, Marquez. You leave the past right here, you don’t take it with you.
Not if it gets in the way. You’re my Second now, understand?”

Sandro nodded, confused, and looked away. The captain dropped his hand. Somebody
shouted.

“And that’s what passes for my crew,” Kennerin said. His smile changed his face. “Haul
yourself in, Second, and let’s get out of here.”

The crew were both drunk. Kennerin herded them aboard with insults and curses; they
laughed and cursed back. One tried to hug the captain, but he pushed her away. Her mouth pinched
down. Kennerin ignored her and swung the hatch shut behind them. Sandro’s confusion doubled;
he didn’t know this man at all.

“The tall one is Beryl,” Kennerin said, locking the toggles around the hatch. “And the short
bastard’s Greaves. This is Alejandro Marquez, new Second. You should like him, Greaves, he’s
shorter than you are. Anyone in condition to fly this drunktank?”
Beryl pushed red-brown hair from her dirty face and looked at Sandro. Her lips pinched down
farther. She turned on her side in the webbing and went to sleep. Greaves shook his head and
fumbled with his straps. Kennerin sighed and dropped into the navigator’s web.

“Up to you, Marquez. First beam Rabbit and tell Hetch that we’re on our way, then get us
out of here.”

Sandro sat reluctantly in the pilot’s web. Kennerin slumped in the web beside him and closed
his eyes.

“Beam’s thirteen, channel four. Rabbit should be somewhere in sector five, level five, but
check with Hetch. And, Marquez . . .”

“Sir?”

“Don’t kill us.”

Sandro didn’t reply. It couldn’t be any different from flying a simulator, he told himself
without conviction. The board was a standard model.  He found the commiter and toggled it to the
proper channel. It wheezed and burped and the contact light glowed. The screen remained dark.

“About time, Jes,” a voice said. “Think I want to spend my life orbiting this junkheap?”

“This is Second Alejandro Marquez,” Sandro said. To his relief, his voice didn’t squeak. “I
have tauCaptain Kennerin, Crew Beryl, and Crew Greaves. The tauCaptain wants to hit grab
tomorrow as soon as we get clearance. Can you give me Rabbit’s exact point?”

The commiter made a surprised noise. “Marquez?”

“That’s right, spacer.”

“Spacer, hell. I’m tauCaptain Manual Hetch, Second. You can call Kennerin anything you
want, but you call me ‘sir,’ understand?”

Sandro flushed, knowing that he’d been set up and sure that Kennerin was repressing a smile.

“Yes, sir. Can I have the point?”

“Open your board.”

Sandro plugged into the board channel and let Hatch beam the point into Spawn’s routing
tank, then read the point back to Hetch. Hetch confirmed and signed off. Sandro double-checked the
controls, obtained leave clearance, and guided the shuttle to the start point. He thought an intense,
brief prayer and fired the shuttle. It waddled down the short runway, bounced three times, and
wallowed into the air.

“That,” said Kennerin without opening his eyes, “will have to improve.”

Sandro ignored him. He poised his hand over the second bank switches, anxiously waiting
for the go-light. The acceleration pushed at his body. He fought it. MarketPort dropped away beneath
them and Sandro’s fingers went rigid.

“Don’t poke it,” Kennerin said sleepily. “Stroke it, Marquez. Nice and slow and gentle.”

Sandro glared at him, assuming mockery, and the go-light winked. He set the second bank
switches and Spawn rattled as she turned to the new heading. MarketPort slid out of sight; the sky
turned black.

“Better,” the tauCaptain said. “Looks like your board scores were accurate, after all. Think
you can synch with Rabbit without punching a gap in the hull?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fine. Wake me before we get there. I collect catastrophes.”

This time the captain really did seem to fall asleep. Spawn would follow the routing until they
approached Rabbit; until then there was nothing for Sandro to do. He watched the board intently
anyway, rubbing his shoulders. The muffled roar of the donkey engines seemed far away. He
checked the board again and turned in his webbing to look at Kennerin. The captain sprawled, utterly
relaxed and utterly mysterious. Long slim body, elegant angular face, black hair tied at the nape of
his neck with a bright ribbon. His eyelids twitched as he dreamed. Sandro remembered the
amusement of the bar, the stiffness of Dullard’s Walk, the calm and terrifying distance as they stood
beside the shuttle, the sarcastic banter with the crew. He shook his head, falling deeper into
confusion, and wondered when his captain would finally place his name.

Their families had been competitors, back when Sandro still had a family, but the competition had been a distant, impersonal thing. The Family Kennerin was far too small to threaten the Family Marquez. But now the Family Marquez was dead or scattered, their home and planet wrenched from them, and a Parallax agent lay dead in Cuidad Garcia, by Sandro’s hand. Our families were in competition, Sandro thought, looking at the captain. Did you arrange for this?

Jes Kennerin murmured indistinctly in his sleep and turned over. Sandro shook his head. If
Kennerin had any hand in the death of Sandro’s family, he’d have placed Sandro’s name the moment
he saw it. And he would not have turned his shuttle and his life over to someone who had reason to
kill him. Would he? Kennerin’s expressions tumbled through Sandro’s memory, and he could not
answer his own question.

I own it.

Sandro pushed the bitterness aside and turned to the controls again. There would be time
enough in space, he thought, to consider who he was and where he was, and who slept beside him
in the small lights of the shuttle’s bridge.

When Rabbit clarified on the screen before him he woke the captain and brought the shuttle
into the bay as smoothly as he could. Jes Kennerin rewarded him with a cool nod of approval,
cracked the shuttle’s hatch, and ushered Sandro Marquez into a complex, unknown future.
 
 

THEY SLID THROUGH THE GRAB THE NEXT day, Beryl and Greaves riding the suits in the
engine room, Jes guiding Rabbit through the grab’s complexity of coils with smooth, practiced grace.
Sandro expected and rode with the sudden feeling of disorientation and imbalance as the coils
shimmered to life; he watched the screens as stars were replaced by blackness, and blackness by the
chaotic glory of tauspace. Rabbit hummed solidly and the three men on the bridge were silent.
Sandro looked at Hetch, to his right, and found the old tauCaptain staring at Jes Kennerin. Kennerin
sat motionless in his webbing, gazing at the dizzying images of tauspace with an almost supernatural
hunger. Sandro blinked.

Then Hetch freed his webbing and the snap of locks broke the moment. Sandro glanced at
him and when he looked again Kennerin was relaxed and turned from the screen. His lips quirked.

“Think you can do that next time?”

“No, sir,” Sandro said. “Time after that, maybe. Not before.”

“He’s learning already,” Hetch said. He passed his hand over his bald head, rose, and winced.
His hand touched his hip and, part of the same movement, rose and patted his round belly with
affection. “All that hard work makes me hungry.”

“Anything makes you hungry,” Kennerin said. Hetch looked indignant and left the bridge.
Kennerin touched the clasps of his own webbing. The cables slid into the seat and the tension
locks opened. He swung the seat around to face Sandro.

“Does that bother you?” he said, waving a hand at the screens. Sandro glanced at them,
watching the curious complexities of that alternate universe in which time had no meaning, in which
all events happened simultaneously and never, and through which the tauships skipped and skimmed,
launched from the grab at their startports, caught by grabs at their stopports and translated into
realspace again. Tau seemed to him an insubstantial, never-ending light show, far too chaotic and
fierce to be real. He shook his head.

“Good. This trip will take about four months standard, and you’re going to be busy every
minute. You’ll learn to be a spacer first and a Second second. You’ll start in the engine room under
Greaves, then drive mechanics with Beryl, and finally controls with Hetch. Greaves and Beryl are
damned good and Hetch is the best in the system. Remember that. If you have any questions or
problems that they can’t take care of, bring them to me. I’ll answer the questions, but I expect a
minimum of problems. Understood?”

Sandro nodded.

“Fine. You start now. Beryl has first shift, so Greaves should be unsuiting. You know how
to find the engine room?”

“Yes, sir.” Sandro rose and crossed to the round entrance of the passageway.

“Marquez.”

“Sir?” He turned, his hand on the frame. Jes sat unmoving, his expression relaxed.

“Do you have anything to tell me?”

Sandro’s belly cramped. He stiffened and looked across the bridge, feeling the hatred build
again.

“No, sir,” he said. 

“All right. Get on with it.”

Sandro got on with it. The first month in tau was exhausting. Greaves seemed eager to push
the entirety of engine systems and controls into his head immediately, prodding him and exploding
with impatience when Sandro lagged. Questions about the captain were treated with contempt.
“Irrelevant,” Greaves would snap, and proceed with the lesson. Sandro disciplined himself to learn
and discovered an increasing fascination with the practicalities of taudrives, the beginning of a feel
for the engines and their characters which, he knew, would never be as great as Greaves’ feel, but
which seemed to please the stocky, brown-haired spacer. One morning, peering into the speckled
mirror above the clensor basin as he scraped depilatory from his face, he discovered a thin red line
that would, eventually, become his first webscar, and surprised himself by feeling an enormous
pride. He finished quickly and rushed down the passageway, grinning and fumbling with the clasp
of his utility belt.

“Look what I’ve got,” he said when he came into the engine room. Greaves put a test unit
down and inspected Sandro’s face, then grinned back at him.

“Another year and you won’t look like a knocker at all,” the spacer said. His own webscars
curved over the planes of his face and disappeared into the collar of his suit. They came from
working in the pit engines, and spacers carried them as a badge of professional pride. Sandro touched
his cheek and felt the thin ridge of the scar under the pads of his fingers.

“The captain’s got a lot of them,” he said, and for once Greaves didn’t glare at him.

“Captain’s a good one,” Greaves said, picking up the test unit. “You get some, they’re too
busy sitting in the bridge playing Tri-Captain to come along here, don’t give a damn about the
engines. You can always tell a good captain by the scarring, Sandro. Pick the ones with lots of it, it
means they pay attention to stuff. Look at Hetch. He’s got scars on the soles of his feet, and he’s one
of the best in the Federation.”

“The captain spends a lot of time down here?”

“As much as he needs to, maybe more. Here, pick that up and follow me.”

Sandro slung the toolkit over his shoulder and followed Greaves into the donkey engine
housings. “What’s he like, the captain? I mean, when he’s on-planet?”

Greaves looked disgusted. “You are a goddamned long-nosed knocker. That’s irrelevant. The
captain’s a spacer, understand? From one end to the other, and there’s nothing to say about it. Now
get your ass over here and pay attention.”

Sandro bit his lip and hurried over. Greaves looked at him sideways, grinned, and touched
Sandro’s scar. “Big deal,” the spacer muttered genially, and they bent their heads over the tattletales.

Although Sandro got on well with Greaves,  Beryl treated him with a cold contempt which
first alarmed, then angered, him; even their minimal contact was abrasive. She was the only person
Sandro had ever met who could produce a silence as quick and vicious as her words. He began to
dread the ending of his time with Greaves.

On the fortieth day, Greaves buckled him into a drive suit and he filled his first engine shift,
hooked between the controls of the bridge, the computer, and the huge, thrusting engines. The drive
suits hung suspended over the silent intricacy of the engine room control banks; Sandro discovered
that once fastened in place and secured the suits were very comfortable. He looked at Greaves
standing on the deck below, looked across at Beryl hidden in the half opacity of her suit, and felt a
growing excitement. Then Greaves touched a switch and the engine room disappeared. Sandro was
overwhelmed by the vastness of the ship. He picked through the sensations, recognizing them by
their simulator counterparts and from Greaves’ precise descriptions, and slid into his work. The ship
responded, delicately, to his touch.

When Greaves brought him down at the end of the shift, he was disoriented and too weary
to feel surprise at the presence of Hetch, Jes, and Beryl in the engine room. He braced himself
against the bulkhead and listened without comprehension to the voices around him.

“He’s fast, then.”

“Fast, and likely to be good. He’ll take more when he gets used to it.”

“First time I did engine shift they had to carry me out. You done with him yet?”

“Give me one more day. I need some help on a repair.”

“Double-time it, Greaves.”

“You’ll get him, Beryl. Don’t get too hungry too fast.”

Sandro raised his head, but Beryl wasn’t looking at him. She and the captain stared at each
other, Beryl with her chin tilted, Kennerin wearing his expression of cool distance. Hetch, watching
them from the side, touched his hip and Sandro felt suddenly insignificant. He shivered and let
Greaves lead him from the engine room.

“She’ll freeze you first,” Greaves said the next day. “Then she’ll needle, then she’ll spite.
And if you can take it all without breaking, she’ll open and be a damned good mate. But don’t break,
Sandro. Don’t lose your temper, don’t plead, don’t retaliate. Just take it cold and leave it cold, or
she’ll run you until you shatter.”

They were down in the pit engines, amid the heat and stench of oil and metal. Sandro wiped
his forehead and readjusted the sweatband, wondering briefly about scars.

“Is she the reason you lost your Second on MarketPort?”

Greaves shrugged. The gesture made lights run crazily down his scarred arms and stomach.
“It’s not the first time, and probably won’t be the last. She was a full Second, too, and good at it, but
Beryl broke her. Took her three runs, but she broke her.”

“If she’s that much trouble, why does Kennerin ship her?”

“She’s good. She’s reliable. If you can get through the ice, she’s a damned good mate.”

“Must be true of other spacers.” A lock of curly brown hair escaped from Sandro’s
sweatband. He put down his tools and pushed the hair into place again. “That can’t be the only
reason. Kennerin must have more sense than - ”

“One more thing,” Greaves said, deliberately interrupting him.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t sleep with the captain this trip. You’re new, and Beryl’s around.”

Sandro took his hands away from the patch on the cooling tube and looked across it at
Greaves. “Am I supposed to hear more than what you said?”

“About Beryl, maybe. What the captain does is his own business.” Greaves gave a last twist
to the patch jacket and gathered his tools. “Done, Sandro?”

“Almost.” He let pressure seep into the cooling tube. The patch held. He stood and wiped his
hands on his pants. “Any more good advice for me?”

“Yep. Get yourself a good night’s sleep. You’re going to need it.”
 

AS SECOND, SANDRO HAD HIS OWN cabin but had to share the common clensor. He made sure that Beryl was on duty and not likely to bother him, stripped, and stepped into the sonics of the unit.
The last time she had shared a clensor with him she stuck her head out of the unit, glanced between
his legs, and laughed as though his penis was the funniest thing in the Federation. He felt too
ambiguous in his position as apprentice Second to challenge her, and too new aboard to retaliate, so
had controlled both temper and pride and pretended to ignore her. But he had no wish to repeat the
experience. He finished quickly and returned to the privacy of his cabin.

Sleep evaded him. He dressed and prowled the small galley, picked out a tube of juice and
a meatstick, and took them with him to the bridge. As he hoped, Hetch was alone on watch. The old
man sat before the secondary bank, playing games with the ship’s computer. He gestured Sandro to
a seat and finished his move, watched intently, and cursed when the computer flanked his move and
put his ship in jeopardy.

“Damned electronic smart ass,” Hetch grumbled. He put the game in stasis while his eyes
drifted over the tattletales on the main board. Satisfied, he began swinging his feet up on the bank,
grimaced, and put them down again. Sandro wanted to ask what led to Hetch’s occasional winces
of pain and his increasingly pronounced limp, but felt that the questions would be unwelcome. He
sipped his juice instead, wishing he could do something. After a time Hetch relaxed and turned back
to the control bank.

Together the old captain and the new Second stared at the grid display that Hetch preferred
to straight-vision mode. The sight of tauspace, Hetch claimed, gave him a headache.

“Greaves finished with you today, right?” Hetch said after a long pause. “You’re pretty fast,
Marquez. That’s a good sign.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And you’re headed to Beryl tomorrow. Nervous?”

“Yes, sir.”

The old man nodded and said “Beryl” again. “One of the joys of being a useless old
spacejock is I don’t have to put up with her. But you do, at least for now. Greaves fill you in?”

“Yes. It didn’t make me any happier.”

“Not your business to be happy, Marquez. It’s your business to learn. Do that, don’t get
scraped, and you’ll be out of it by the end of the trip.” Hetch grinned and faked a shudder. “Holy
Mother, to have to go through training again. . . . How old are you, Marquez?”

“Eighteen standard.”

“You look younger. I trained Jes when he was a year younger than you are. It was easy for
him - he wanted to be a spacer so bad that he could taste it. Even stowed away with me once when
he was just, what, eleven? That’s right. I’ll tell you the story someday, it’s a good one.” Sandro tried
to envision Kennerin as a child and failed. Hetch leaned forward, took Sandro’s juicetube and
squirted juice into his mouth. “Took him on six years later,” Hetch continued. “And he only had to
put up with Tham, Merkit, and Bakar. Wonder he got trained at all. You, though . . .” Hetch looked
at him speculatively and handed back the tube. “You’re a spacer because you had to be, right?”

Sandro nodded and stared at his hands. “I had enough for a one-way flight and the farthest
it took me was MarketPort. And from MarketPort, there’s only one way out.”

“You could have done it different. Could have taken a dirt job.”

Sandro looked at him. Hetch smiled.

“It’s all right, Sandro. You chose the best, but you chose because you had to, not because you
wanted it. It makes a difference. You’ll be a good Second, maybe even a damned good Second, but
you’ll never be a great one. That bother you?”

“Yeah.” Sandro put his feet on the ledge below the control bank and slumped back in the
webbing. “Yeah. If it’s pride to do your best, then it’s pride to want to be the best, too, isn’t it?”
Hetch nodded. “And is it pride to feel mad because you’ll never be the best?”

“That too. You won’t get over it, but you’ll get used to it.”

Sandro licked the taste of the meatstick from his fingers and thought about that, then thought
about Beryl. He frowned, trying to phrase a question.

“Captain?”

“Um?” Hetch was staring at the screen again, his eyes half closed.

“Yesterday, after my first engine shift, when everyone came to the control room?”

“I remember.”

“I thought Beryl and Greaves were arguing over me. But when I looked, Beryl wasn’t looking
at me at all, or at Greaves. She and the captain - do you remember?” Hetch nodded, looking at
Sandro. Sandro licked his lips. “Today, Greaves, he said that I shouldn’t - he said not to sleep with
the captain, because Beryl’s around. He said that she lost him his first Second, the one before me.
And when she looks at me, I feel like she’s not looking at me at all, she’s looking through me, or
she’s looking at what she can do to me, how she can use me.” He took a deep breath and looked at
Hetch. “I don’t know why.”

“Damn,” Hetch said. He put his hand over his eyes for a moment. “Sandro, forget about it.
It’s not your fight.”

“But, that day in the engine room . . . I don’t want to be a . . . a pawn in Beryl’s fight.”

“It’s not Beryl’s fight, either. It’s Jes’. And as such, it’s not your business,” the old man said
kindly. “Forget about it, Sandro. Do your job, get your training over. We’ve all got secrets, and
you’ve no right to ask into this one.”

“But if I get stuck in the middle - ”

“Sandro,” Hetch said and Sandro bit his lip. The old man looked at him with speculation and,
for some reason, a hint of pity. “Marquez,” he said, as though to himself. “Enough for a one-way
ticket to MarketPort. I’d like to hear about that, someday.”

Sandro’s belly went tight again. Secrets. He remembered Jes saying, “Do you have anything
to tell me?”

Jamás, Sandro thought. Instead he said, “How long am I under Beryl?”

“Until you learn what you need to know,” Hetch said, accepting the change of subject. “She’ll
tell you when she’s done with you.”

“I’ll bet.”

Hetch grinned at Sandro’s sarcasm. “Get some sleep, Second. It’s almost tomorrow already.”

Sandro nodded and walked to the doorway, expecting the old man to call him back. But
Hetch leaned forward and resurrected his game, and Sandro moved into his cabin.

It had been dangerously easy, these past four weeks, to forget who he was and who his
captain was, to forget the reason that he, youngest son of Iberia Sector’s most powerful family, had
fled his homeworld with only enough fremarks for a ticket to a dingy, prefabricated trading station
orbiting a barren star. I own it. Do you have anything to tell me? Logic argued that Kennerin was
innocent of any part in Sandro’s past; emotion kept the secret buried within him, and kept the
suspicion alive. Besides, he thought, anything he could tell his captain would sound like the stilted
ravings of an old Iberian tale: injured knight, banished heir, son of a dead father, disinherited
princeling out to seek revenge on a power so big he could barely comprehend it. Safe in the belly of
a rival’s ship, it seemed that all his giants had turned into windmills. He twisted in his hammock
while images of Kennerin’s face tumbled through his mind, each one different and all of them masks,
and if he could only find the true face the answers would spill out in neat, rows, ready to solve his
problems for him. Kennerin grinned and shook his head. Confused and dizzy, Sandro pulled the
webbing of the hammock around him. The next morning he rose, dressed, muttered his family name
like a talisman, and found Beryl.

She spent the first week ignoring him, addressing her remarks to the bulkhead over his
shoulder and refusing to answer his questions. But she was quick and thorough and knowledgable,
and Sandro absorbed her lessons hungrily, sometimes so caught up in the intricacy of Cohen-
Albrecht Effect Drive mechanics that he forgot her coldness, his unhappiness, the captain’s mystery.
Purely out of self-defense he became almost supernaturally attuned to her, ready for the times when
she turned on him and fired questions as though they were weapons. When he answered correctly
she turned her back on him with no word of acknowledgment or praise and he learned not to permit
himself the time to feel triumphant. When he made a mistake, the chill of her manner became an icy
edge of contempt. He made increasingly few mistakes. He respected her knowledge and abilities but
refused to let it show, and she never treated him as anything other than a tool, a pawn. She’s learning
where my buttons are, he thought during that first week, and took pains to hide his emotions from
her. She would not use him as she used a tool-drone, or a wrench.

The second week her tactics changed. Now she needled the information into him,
accompanying each lecture with vitriolic comments about his performance, his abilities, his
intelligence, his stature. Finding the buttons. He held grimly to his temper, using the knowledge that
she herself taught him to play back her own contempt. Off shift he fled to Rabbit’s small gymnasium
and worked his anger out, free-fall, on the bars and rungs until he verged on exhaustion and had
energy enough only to scrub the day from his skin and collapse into his hammock. His worksuit and
shorts tightened as his muscles grew.

One day he drifted, panting, from a high rung and looked over his shoulder to see her
standing at the gym’s lock, her green eyes glittering. A skinsuit barely covered her slim, muscular
body. Caught in free-fall, her auburn hair drifted in heavy waves around her face, and her expression
was, for once, relaxed.

“Pity you can’t exercise your brains as well as your muscles,” she said. She launched herself
from the lock and caught a bar, curving her body around it. Sandro looked away from her, pushed
himself from the rung, and slid to the lock.

“I’ll leave the gym to you,” he said politely.  “Is it easy to take the parallel bars with your
tongue?”

She laughed, surprised. Sandro strolled down the corridor until he turned a bend, then ran to
his cabin and shut the door, shaking. He thought of her laughter and her face and shook again,
frightened. It’s another button, he thought, remembering the planes of her face, the curves of her
sleek body. He felt sick.

Jes Kennerin appeared in the control room two days later. Sandro didn’t notice until he
turned and saw the captain leaning in the shadow of a far bulkhead. Disconcerted, Sandro made a
mistake. Beryl turned on him and saw Kennerin; she pitched her voice to carry and flooded the
control room with venom, looking always over Sandro’s shoulder at the captain. Sandro honed his
anger in the sharpness of his response, and when she abruptly turned her back to him he knew that
Kennerin was gone. She always wore skinsuits now, and he thought he saw her shoulders shake
under the thin fabric. His breath caught. He wanted to touch her, wanted to still the shaking and run
his fingers along the curve of her jaw. And knew that the moment he did, he was lost.

In the gym afterwards he moved and twisted with mindless intensity, hiding from the sound
of her remembered voice, the planes of her remembered face, the terrible and fatal quivering of her
body. Sweat coated his fair skin, darkened his brown hair and left it plastered in tight curls to his
forehead and neck. I need sex, he thought, and knew it for a lie. He spun among the bars and rungs,
driven by green eyes, until his muscles locked and he fell through the flexible, brightly colored bars.
He tumbled slowly, unresisting, until he felt the thick padding of the gym’s side. His fingers locked
around a rung and he drifted, eyes closed, lost in the thudding of his heart. She’d found the button,
and his deepest terror was that she knew it.

Eventually he forced himself to follow the padded rungs to the lock and he fell through it.
When he’d adjusted to the push of the ship’s acceleration-gravity he staggered toward the clensor,
unseaming his shorts as he went. He stood in the unit, his hands braced against its walls, while the
sonics peeled dirt, sweat, and dead skin from him.

Somebody shouted down the corridor and Beryl’s voice, near the door of the clensor, said
sullenly, “What do you want?” Sandro gasped; he’d left the door open. His hand drifted down to
cover his genitals. He jerked it away and stood quiet.

Hetch’s voice, still indistinct, said something.

“I want to get clean,” Beryl replied. “Talk about it later. Besides, I don’t want to talk about
it with you.”

“You’ll have to.” Hetch’s voice was clear now. Sandro peered around the edge of the unit
but could see only Hetch’s body, facing away from him. He leaned back against the unit’s wall and
clenched his hands. His discarded shorts lay in full view from the corridor; he tried not to think about
them.

“. . . bunch of dreck,” Hetch was saying. “And damned close to insubordination.”

“The hell it is,” Beryl said. “I don’t have to do -”

“You haven’t a choice. You’ve a job to do and you’ll do it. There’s nothing more to discuss.”

“I have a vote,” Beryl said.

“Won’t do you a damned bit of good. It’s not something you can fluff, damn it. You’ll finish
what you started, and you’ll finish it right. Without any more damned complaints, and without
ripping things apart.”

Beryl cursed. “Why won’t he talk to me?” she demanded. 

“Busy. Leave him alone, Beryl. He keeps you on board, what more do you want from him?”

“You don’t have to ask that,” she said, her voice bitter. “Hetch, where’s it gone?”

“You’re assuming there was something to begin with, and you’re wrong,” the old man said,
but his voice had gentled. “What name do you want to carry? You can’t have them both.”

“Manny -”

“Just do your job. You’re going to hate anyone in Sandro’s position. You know it, Jes knows
it, I know it. Just do your job.”

“I am -”

“You’re not. Sure, you’re teaching him, but you’re also fucking him over. He’s a kid, Beryl.
Lay off him,” Hetch’s voice paused. “He took you out of a pit crew, and he can put you back there.”

“He wouldn’t.”

“He could take you home.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Beryl said, but her voice shook. 

“Beryl, I could take you home. Or bring Spider up to Rabbit. What name do you want?”

Beryl made a wordless sound, somewhere between anger and anguish, and Sandro buried his
face in his hands. Footsteps ran down the passageway. Sandro opened his eyes and reached for the
unit’s controls. As he closed down the sonics, the door of the unit swung open. Hetch looked at him,
then held out Sandro’s discarded shorts. The old man’s expression was stony.

“Get out of here,” Hetch said. He caught Sandro’s glance and held it. “What did you hear?”
Sandro raised his chin, but words stuck in his throat. He looked down.

“Nothing,” he muttered, and took his shorts.
 

THE TAUSHIP HAD A CREWROOM, BUT IT WAS rarely used. Instead the ship’s complement
gathered in the large bridge when off-shift, talking, working on small projects, playing games with
the computer. Two evenings later, when Sandro entered the bridge after his daily workout, he found
everyone save Greaves seated near the secondary bank. They looked at him as he entered and he
knew they’d been discussing him. He wanted to leave but Hetch beckoned him over. Sandro took
a seat as far from Beryl as he could: it did no good. Beryl, smiling, went through her usual cutting
insults, sprinkled now with taunting obscenities. She’d found the button, Sandro realized through
his growing rage, and was using it now, in what on the Rabbit passed for public. Sandro felt the eyes
of the two captains on him and held his anger in check, hiding his hands against the urge to hit, or
touch, those quick, sarcastic lips. Beryl smiled at him, sure of her power and his pain. He stood and
left the bridge, refusing to let his body shake until he was safely behind the locked doors of his cabin.
Furious and shamed, he hated not only Beryl but the two captains who, it seemed, had watched with
an almost clinical detachment, as though Sandro were nothing more than a laboratory animal to be
prodded and tested and written up as a series of statistics in the journals of their minds. Footsteps
moved down the corridor, someone rattled about in the galley nearby. Sandro gathered all his self-
control and sought out Greaves, standing silent before him, unable to speak for fear of breaking.
With wordless sympathy, Greaves took him to the noisiest section of the engine hold and Sandro
turned his back to the spacer and screamed until his lungs ached and the knot in his chest loosened.
Then Greaves took him first to the clensor, then to Sandro’s cabin. Sandro put his hands over his
face and began crying. Greaves climbed into the hammock and held him tightly until the sobs
lessened, and Sandro could accept the simple comfort of Greaves’ warm body. Eventually he slept,
lulled by the rise and fall of Greaves’ chest under his cheek, the sound of Greaves’ heart. When he
woke, Greaves was gone.

He woke knowing what he would do. Dress, gather his courage, find Kennerin, and request
to be let off at the nearest stop, be it planet, port, or grabstation Sal. Numb with the force of his
decision, he pulled on a clean suit, scrubbed his face with the heels of his hands, and left his cabin,
holding his Certificate in his hand. Hetch stood in the corridor outside the galley and Beryl, tea in
hand, stood in the doorway. She saw Sandro, grinned, and said, “Well, knocker, how did you like
your little shipboard romance?”

Sandro put his Certificate on the deck by her feet, turned, and hit her as hard as he could. He
felt a brief satisfaction at her expression as she fell - she had not expected that of him. Then he threw
himself after her. Beryl bounced up from the deck, twisted, and kicked. He evaded the blow
clumsily, catching the impact on hip rather than groin. He grabbed her foot and brought her down
with him, pinning her to the deck. She went for his throat.

Fat, bald Hetch was stronger than he looked. He hauled Sandro off Beryl and Jes ran in as
she leaped up, her fist cocked.

“Damn it, Taine,” he shouted. She cried out and twisted to swing at him, but he sidestepped
and caught her about the waist, pinning her to the bulkhead while Sandro spit and cursed in the
language of his home, and tried to break free of Hetch. Hetch’s breath caught suddenly and Sandro,
remembering the old man’s pain, stopped fighting. Then Greaves appeared at the doorway, and Jes
glared at him. 

“Who in hell is running this boat? You get your ass down to engines and keep it there!” The
captain’s dark face was purple with rage. Greaves backed hastily from the small room. Sandro’s
breath hurt his throat. He remembered Beryl’s expression, inches from his face, and shuddered. She
stood motionless now, her eyes closed, body pressed against the length of Jes’ body. Kennerin cursed
and pushed her away.

“Hetch, get to the bridge,” Kennerin said. “And put this one in detention.” He pushed Beryl
toward Hetch. She glared at him, shook auburn hair from her face, and followed Hetch from the
galley.

Sandro looked defiantly at Kennerin’s eyes. No mystery here now: the captain looked furious.
Then the expression shifted; the fury remained, but Sandro was baffled by the difference. He
breathed and stiffened his shoulders. I don’t care, he thought. Some shit I will not eat, not for you,
not for your job, not for your ship. He stared at his captain.

“Come with me,” Kennerin said, his voice expressionless, and walked out of the galley.
Sandro hesitated, then followed, stooping to pick up his Certificate and put it in his pocket. Jes led
Sandro through the captain’s quarters and palmed a lock along the hull of the ship. He stepped
through and Sandro, bewildered, followed.

It seemed as though they had walked out of the ship into the astonishing craziness of
tauspace. The room was a bubble tacked to Rabbit’s outer hull, connected only at the scant three
meters around the hatch. The captain balanced on the curved permaglass and Sandro clung to the
hatch frame, blinded by the colors and the light. Kennerin hauled him into the bubble and the hatch
snapped shut.

It was like stepping into nothingness. Sandro lost his balance and sat hard on the permaglass,
his fingers spread. He looked infinitely down between his legs and closed his eyes. Kennerin stepped
over him; he felt the movement of the captain’s feet on the loose cloth of his suit legs. He tilted his
head, eyes still closed, and waited for the captain to speak. The silence grew.

“Captain,” Sandro said finally. It came out as a whisper. He licked his lips and opened his
eyes. The captain leaned against the bubble’s far wall, head turned away, and he stared unblinking
into tau.

“Captain,” he said again. “I want to know why she made me do that.” Jes didn’t move. “I
have a right,” Sandro said, and waited until he felt sure his voice wouldn’t shake again. “She’s been
pushing for that since - She’s a better fighter than I am, she knows that, you know that - I have a right
to know why.”

Kennerin closed his eyes. “No,” he said.

“Greaves said she’s jealous,” Sandro continued recklessly. “He said not to sleep with you
because she’s around. And she wasn’t even fighting with me, captain, I was just a - a something, a
tool, something instead of - and she swung at you, captain! I thought I was supposed to be the - but
she tried to hit you, captain!”

“She had a right to,” Kennerin said.

Sandro gaped at him. “That’s insurrection,” he whispered. “That’s mutiny.”

The captain’s shoulders moved. 

Sandro let his breath out explosively. “All right! It’s your ship, your crew, your business -
but I still think I deserve an explanation. For what she’s done to me, captain. For that.”

“Fair enough,” Kennerin said. He sat and laid his hands in his lap and looked from them to
Sandro, face calm. “You deserve an explanation, but I can’t give you one.”

“She wanted to kill me!”

Kennerin shook his head. Sandro stared at him, unbelieving and angry, and opened his
mouth, but the captain reached forward and snapped Sandro’s mouth closed.

“Shut up,” Kennerin whispered. Sandro pulled back from the fury in the captain’s voice and
blue eyes.  “Beryl will leave you alone. And you’ll leave her alone, or I’ll have you blackballed for
insubordination, and you’ll never see the inside of a ship again. Understand?”

“But she -”

“Do you understand!”

“Yes, sir,” Sandro said, frightened.

Kennerin put his forehead against the transparent wall of the bubble and stared into tau.
Sandro tried not to breathe. Finally the captain gestured wearily, without turning, and the simple
movement brought Sandro’s heart to his throat.

“I can’t - I won’t pass on secrets. Not Beryl’s, not anyone’s. You’ll have to accept that.”

Sandro didn’t reply. “I’m making a place for you,” the captain continued. “I don’t have to, Marquez.
And that’s as much as you’re going to get. I won’t break a confidence, not for you, not for anyone.”

“Sir. Not even if she tries to kill me?”

“She won’t.”

Sandro licked his lips. “How do you know?”

The captain was silent. Sandro looked at his weary face, at his tense shoulders, and suddenly
knew both the answer and part of the reason for Beryl’s deliberate, escalating hostility. The captain
would buy her cooperation, her sanity, with his body. Sandro remembered the curve of Beryl pressed
between the bulkhead and the captain’s belly and thighs, and felt dizzy. Kennerin, watching Sandro’s
face, nodded once.

“And now you know something of mine,” he said.

It seemed to Sandro as though the universe shifted; Beryl now as insignificant as Sandro
himself had felt. The nub, the center, rested in the man who leaned against the curved permaglass
across from him, the man with the exhausted eyes. Sandro had been given part of the secret, yes, but
it only deepened the mystery, only added to the question. He gestured helplessly.

“I didn’t know that - I - “ he began. Kennerin touched his cheek with lean, gentle fingers,
pushing his head around to face the bubble’s side.

“Look,” the captain commanded. Obediently, defenselessly, Sandro looked.

Events without time, materiality without structure; the alternate universe of tauspace was not
even chaotic, for chaos carries, implicit within it, order. If order existed in tau, it existed on a
frequency that could not be grasped, that could not be comprehended, and the smeared and shattered
brilliance of tauspace evaded thought.

“We’re like newborns,” Jes whispered. “We don’t even know how to look at it, we don’t
know how or what or when it means.”

Beyond the thin, transparent shield provided by the Cohen-Albrecht Effect Drive engines,
beyond their half-understood power, there moved such an incomprehensibility of energy, of force,
of intensity, that Rabbit and all aboard seemed inconceivably petty. Sandro slid into tau, losing touch
with his body, with any sense other than that of his eyes, lost in a world he didn’t, and didn’t want
to, understand.

The touch of his captain’s hand on his thigh brought him back, a persistent pressure. He
looked at Kennerin’s face as Jes leaned away from him again and looked back from an unimaginable
distance that, suddenly, Sandro began to comprehend. Sandro exhaled and relaxed against the
permaglass, brought back from tau by the knowledge that he had not voyaged alone. Words formed
idly in his mind: she shall have his body, but I shall have his peace. He examined the words and let
them slide away. The captain’s face turned, and Sandro, imitating him, looked again at tau.

Patterns on patterns, order in chaos, colors and their absence, light and dark. Tau took on a
new dimension, a seductive, constantly changing promise of smallness, of irrelevance. Tau did not
care. And in that indifference lay freedom and the possibility of peace. Sandro felt a detached and
grateful awe at the surcease of pain that tau granted, and understood that, as his own needs made this
understanding possible, so must the captain’s pain have made this peace necessary. Amid the
captain’s thousand faces, the one of hunger stood explained. Sandro accepted the gift and,
unprotesting, prepared a gift in return.

“I was born on Marquez Landing,” Sandro said, and his voice seemed another face of tau.
“My greatgrandfather had the planet terraformed, years ago. Long time back. He thought it would
make a good pleasure planet. Lots of water, islands, trees. It was a pretty place. Nobody came. Off
in a backwash, off the main routes, an awkward journey, and no one made it. It seemed a lot of effort
for nothing at all. But he was stubborn, my great-grandfather. He hired the Enchanter labs and they
developed a plant. A bush. Zimania rubiflora. You know about it. Your family stole it from mine.
It was something entirely new. We processed the sap and crystallized it to make a superconductive
wire, and that was new, too. Enchanter set up the processing plant in a neighboring system, and sold
it to a private company. Which was fine, because we were busy expanding the plantations. We
covered every island on Marquez Landing, and people came to live there, to work on the plantations,
to build the city. They did well, my grandfather, my father. So well that it was no tragedy when your
family stole some of our seeds and started growing Zimania, and processing it, and selling it. There
was plenty of market to go around. It seemed.”

“We didn’t steal the seeds,” the captain said, his voice as expressionless as Sandro’s. “They
were given to us. It doesn’t matter by whom.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sandro agreed. “My father inherited Marquez Landing and the
plantations. We lived a good life, my parents, my sisters, my brother. A company came and offered
to buy us out. We wouldn’t sell. My father wouldn’t sell. They bought the shipping line and raised
the rates. We couldn’t ship our sap, and profits fell. People started to leave. We imported most of
our goods, and most of our land grew Zimania and not food. For the profits. We couldn’t import
food anymore. Then the company bought the processing plant, and refused our sap. Everything
died.” Sandro paused, and when he continued his voice held only traces of emotion. “People died.
My father refused to sell. My mother died. My father - broke. He sold Marquez Landing, and went
into the fields behind the town, into the oldest fields. He shot himself. My sisters went to North
Wing, to friends. My brother . . .”

Sandro paused. Jes said nothing. Sandro splayed his fingers across the permaglass and
watched tau move between them.

“My brother sold himself to the company and stayed on to manage Marquez Landing. I stayed
too - there seemed nowhere else to go. Then the transition agent came, and he was all the company
all at once. The one who killed my parents. The one who stole my world. He was arrogant, and cold,
and I hated him.”

Sandro stopped again, considering evasions. Jes stared unblinking into tau.

“I left Marquez Landing. I swore I wouldn’t go back until I’d broken Parallax, until I’d seen
it die the way my mother did. And went to MarketPort. And came here.”

Finally Jes turned to look at Sandro, and said, “Parallax.”

Sandro returned his gaze. Jes swung about and irised the hatch again, and Sandro followed
him into Jes’ quarters. His mind seemed disconnected. The hatch snicked shut and he looked at the
captain. Jes’ face was cool and, for once, peaceful.

“There can be no fighting on my ship, no matter what the provocation.”
Sandro nodded.

“I’m going to put you in detention and I’m going to let Beryl out. Because I need her more
than I need you, and because you swung first. You won’t be in for long. I’m changing course.” Jes
paused. “Sandro.”
“Captain.”

“Parallax tried to take over Aerie, my home, years ago. They didn’t succeed that time. I want
my family to hear your story.” Jes paused. “Will you come home with me?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Yes.”

Sandro tilted his head to look up at his captain. “I’ll come home with you. I don’t have a
home of my own anymore.”

Jes turned and led the way to the detention cell.