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Chapter Two

The man in the Deutsch Bar knew where the king and half the royal Guard were—at Memorial Park, holding a ceremony. Around him, the holo screens livecasted the event.

“Anything else I can get you, sir?”

The waitress with the gold curls asked the question like her day depended on the answer. Her curls reminded him of another little someone, someone he had safely stored away.

“No, dear, just the coffee is fine.” He’d started calling girls “dear” a few years back. Goes with the age, he decided. Most seemed to like it. Blondie did.

Her smile broadened. “I’ll be by the bar. You call me if you need anything.”

The man returned to admiring the scene out the window. The bar he’d chosen was a favorite of the local port workers and had a wide view of one of the busiest spaceports in Sidonia. Multi-storied warehouses flanked the landing strip while a river stretched along the far side. Busy bot techs directed their haulers to move cargo where needed. Honest laborers going about their honest work.

Must be nice to live out your last moments doing the kind of work you like to do, he thought. Go out with your boots on. He’d heard that somewhere. Maybe a book he’d read.

His musing about classic literature was interrupted by lights flashing at the port, indicating an incoming shuttle. Workers scattered like startled skrats as the dull roar of landing increased. He checked the panel implanted in his forearm, ignoring for now the blinking green lights near his wrist.

Right on time.

The massive white shuttle descended, the red and blue symbol of Chaebol Corp marking its side. A perfect circle in perfect balance.

Its landing struts touched the pavement.

Ducking as if to pick up something that had fallen, the man swiped an icon over the first green light. Outside, a rumbling crack became a roar as the bomb under the main landing pad detonated. Concussive explosions were followed by one final blast when the fuel cells in the shuttle ruptured.

The windows in the bar shattered, spraying his head and shoulders with shards. His coffee mug had fallen over, puddling its contents across the table. Damn shame. Waste of good coffee.

Shouts and cries filled the bar and startled patrons got up to see what happened. The man shook the glass off his leather jacket before pulling it on. He glanced over at the waitress, who stood holding a stein, now empty, her apron splashed with beer.

As if he was just another bystander looking to help, the man hollered, “Someone call an ambulance!” and hurried out the door.

Dust and smoke hung in the air. Across the square, the blast had blown out windows in all of the buildings, leaving their frames gaping in silent screams. Bodies littered the ground like leaves after a summer storm. The man stepped over a fallen worker. It looked like the burly man had the bad fortune of hitting his head against a steel pylon. That’s why it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings.

Partially collapsed into the cratered landing pad, the Chaebol shuttle was a twisted wreckage of blackened metal, flames, and black fuming smoke. Whatever, and whoever, was aboard was now ash. The man mentally checked one item off his list.

A growing crowd of concerned bystanders gathered near the bar, people wanting to help but not sure how or if it was safe. It wouldn’t do to be caught openly poking around, the man decided. Anyone could be recording images, even now. He didn’t want his face picked up, if possible. Best to melt into the crowd.

He slipped behind a hysterical woman who sobbed the whole story to her friend. In her account, the explosion was so tremendously terrifying, it signaled the end of the world. He liked that.

The woman’s story was cut short by the wail of approaching sirens. The emergency vehicles whirred in from above the buildings and touched down in an undamaged area of the landing strip, just as he’d predicted.

Give them some time to gather the wounded, he thought, walking away.

He counted down, mentally whistling a tune, he was so pleased his plan was working. Like clockwork.

Next to a French patisserie, he decided he’d gone a suitable distance, and the delectable smell was too lovely to resist.

Pulling back his sleeve, he swiped the second blinking green light. Another blast—not as large as the first—but followed by a satisfying chorus of horrified screams.

There, he thought. That should do for the first responders. It would top the headlines of every newscast across Sidonia. Scratch off item number two. Aquitaine, his employer, would be pleased. Perhaps in a bit, he’d return to check on the cleanup, but for now—those éclairs smelled wonderful. And he owed himself another coffee.


Even after the ceremony was over, Vincent remained vigilant. Until the roughly hundred thousand people in the crowd dispersed, Memorial Park was an Aquitaine target. The sooner the Guard could send everyone on their way, the better.

“Your Majesty, a word.” The dark, wiry man addressing him was Colonel Greer, Vincent’s new head of security. Although slight in stature, what the man lacked in height he made up for in intellect and lethality. Few faced him on the battlefield and lived to tell about it. After the war bot attack on Sidonia, Vincent had found him in his fishing lodge to ask him to leave retirement. Greer had hesitated, but his nation needed him. And who could say no to a king?

Glancing at a nearby camera and angling away from it, Greer lowered his voice. “There’s been an attack. It appears a bomb was planted at Franklin spaceport and remotely detonated to take out a Chaebol shipment. I have officers on the scene now, but it looks like the work of Aquitaine terrorists.”

“Any word from Chaebol?”

“They are sending their own team of investigators to the scene. They’re demanding answers.”

“Who do you have on the scene now?”

“First responders from the local police station along with Guardsmen Jackson, Rivers, Smith, and Sanders.”

Two names were new to Vincent; Rivers, he trusted, and Sanders was a mess. “I’d better join them. Thank you, Colonel.”

When Vincent turned to go, he almost collided with his wife, who was looking up at him expectantly.

“And where are you running off to now?” she asked, eyebrow crooked.

He didn’t have time for this. “An urgent matter came up—”

“Don’t police-talk me, Vince. I heard what Greer had to say. There’s been a bombing at the port and you’re going to check it out. Take me with you. I can help.”

“Absolutely not.”

“It’s perfectly safe! You’ve got your men there now—Chaebol has their people there. I’ve got an engineering background and I might be able to figure out how Aquitaine did it. You need another set of eyes. Please!”

Cosima looked up at him, green eyes wide and pleading. At this rate, it’d be quicker to just bring her.

“You have your shield emitter on?” he asked, even though he could clearly see the choker around her neck.

She lifted her chin. “Right here.”

“Is it on?”

“Hit me.”


“Fine, I’ll—” She eyed the platform’s edge as if considering throwing herself off it, but with one look at Vincent, thought better of it. “—behave myself. Just trust me, this thing’s working. Fully charged. Lana never lets me leave my room without it on and running. Even though it looks dreadful with my outfit.”

He had no idea what she was talking about. In her black mourning dress, she looked pretty, like she always did, shield emitter and all. Maybe it wasn’t the most fashionable accessory, but it kept her safe. That was all he cared about.

“All right.”

“Yes!” she cheered.

“This time. But stay close, okay? Don’t wander off. Sidonia can’t lose her king and queen in one day.”

Even as he said the words, he knew he was making a mistake, but his wife squealed and threw her arms around him, and that felt good.


After chatting with Lana about some palace gossip, Cosima grew silent. The royal limo sped toward the docks and spaceports of Spillover South. Black smoke smudged the skyline, much like it had on the Saturday twelve months before when the war bots had gotten through the capital’s shield and attacked the palace itself. She shuddered. The blackened wreckage on the landing pad was smaller in scale than the devastation that day, but she hadn’t expected to see so many bodies. When she’d heard about the bombing, it hadn’t occurred to her that other people might have been near that exploding shuttle, people who went to work that morning and would never return home. Her people. Their bodies lay in a neat row of bags, waiting to be taken to a mortuary.

Getting out of the car, Vincent held the barricade tape up for her. She gathered her skirts, ducked under the tape, then danced aside to avoid a puddle of blood.

“I’m already regretting this, Cosima. Perhaps you should go.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m a spacer, after all. I’ve seen much worse than this,” she assured him. “Hands cut off, long-time friends sucked into the vacuum of space, others…”

The little muscle on his jaw was doing that thing it did when he was listening, but not really listening, to her.

“Sanders, Patel!” he called. “Make sure the crowd doesn’t get too close to the limos. Establish a ten-yard perimeter around those vehicles.”

Cosima rolled her eyes. Just like she thought. Not listening. “I can see you’re busy. You go do your work. I’ll take Lana and a guard with me, and we’ll inspect the blast area. I want to hear what the engineers have to say.”

Vince hesitated, unsure what to say.


The man couldn’t believe his good fortune when the royal limos pulled up to the scene, and not only the King of Sidonia but the Queen stepped out to see what he’d done. His plan had worked better than he’d hoped. Most royals stayed in their silver towers, letting underlings handle the affairs of the rabble, but these two were young, inexperienced, and easily manipulated. All you needed to know about people was the right button to push. He’d found theirs. Now to make use of it.

Sauntering over to join the curious crowd pressing in on the limos, he fished a small device out of his pocket. If he could get the skin reader within five centimeters of one of the guards, he could take on that man’s appearance and infiltrate the palace. Eliminating his target would be simple. Surprise, kill, vanish.

Picturing his bank statement after his account was filled with Aquitaine’s gratitude for another mission accomplished, he waited cheerfully, trying to keep from smiling over his good fortune.

Two guardsmen came out and shouted for the crowd to step away from the vehicles. One dark with sharp features, the other red-faced and sweaty. Yes, he would try to scan this second man first. The way the guardsman’s eyes skipped around the crowd like ping-pong balls said he was nervous. To get close to this kid, all the man needed was a distraction.


Vincent eyed the engineers gathered near the crater in the middle of the landing pad. At least if the queen joined them, she’d be away from the crowd. But if the terrorists had left other surprises behind…

“Please? Vince?”

His wife’s beautiful green eyes were filled with hope. He didn’t understand why she wanted to be here so badly. It wasn’t safe. The terrorists had already shown they planned follow-up attacks, and even now a sniper could be taking position in one of the nearby buildings. Coming here had been a mistake.

“Sire.” Jones caught his elbow. “The aide to Ambassador Lee is here, requesting an audience.”

Dressed in a black suit and tie, the Chaebol representative waited with his briefcase in hand, face expressionless. Since Vincent hadn’t yet assessed the situation, he wasn’t prepared for this meeting.

Groaning inwardly, Vincent turned to his wife. “Cosima. Listen. I shouldn’t have brought you here—”


“It’s not safe—”

“No!” His wife literally stamped her foot in protest, right in front of the Chaebol rep, along with the rest of the Sidonian public. “I can tell those engineers don’t know what they’re doing. Look at them! They’re searching the blast area when they should be looking over the spaceport blueprints. There are water pipes under the concrete—”

Vincent pinched the bridge of his nose. “What are you talking about?”

Sunlight glanced off the windowless buildings that loomed near the landing pad. Any one of them could give a sniper a clear shot.

“The nuclear fuel cells to regenerate the shuttles rely on a constant flow of water from the bay,” she pointed, “to the docking area. The terrorists could have used the water lines under the concrete to direct their charges.”

“Look, Cosima. We don’t have time for this.” Vincent tried to reason with her. “Why don’t you let the engineers do their jobs and let me do mine and keep you safe? I made a mistake in bringing you here. That was a poor decision on my part. It’s time for you to get in the limo and go back to the palace.”

“What? No!” The queen’s distress had caught everyone’s attention. Just wonderful.

“Please. As your king and husband, I’m asking you to go home.”

He’d said it as nicely as he could, but Cosima didn’t take it that way. Her eyes narrowed.

“Fine,” she said. “I’m leaving. Lana, we’re going back to the palace. We won’t stay where we’re not wanted.”

And with a huff, she picked up her skirts, ducked under the barricade tape, and headed for the limo.

Vincent took a moment to watch the limo pull away, and then turned back to the Chaebol rep, his biggest concern off his mind.


Chuckling to himself at his success, the man stuffed the reader back into his pocket and made his way down the street. Today had been a good day, one filled with happy surprises. You don’t get too many days like this, he decided. Ones filled with unlooked-for wins. He ought to do something to celebrate. He thought about the patisserie and warm eclairs and turned his steps toward the shop.

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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