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  “Welcome aboard, Scout Murkoni.” Large doors slid open with a barely audible sigh. The voice belonged to a young, small-framed man in a dark uniform who smiled politely and bowed. “You will want to see the commander, no doubt.”

  “Yes, is he here?” asked Murkoni. He heard the exhaustion in his own voice, though he had tried to hide it. He wondered if he looked any worse than he sounded. Eighty-six hours in a cramped ship could do that, of course, but he hated for anyone to notice. He was a scout after all. It was his job and he pursued excellence in all parts of his job, presentation included.

  “Yes, he is. Follow me.”

  After a long walk, interrupted by a series of elevators, Scout Murkoni stood outside the doors of the commander’s main meeting quarters.

  “Please, go in.” said the young soldier as the doors slid apart. Their opening revealed a large circular room, filled by a large circular table surrounded by chairs. At the far end sat the commander, obviously waiting.

  “Hello Quent. Please, have a seat.” said the commander with a trace of smile. Murkoni knew the commander liked him. Commander Briddon was a friendly man. But right now, that didn’t matter. Right now, Murkoni was the most important person in the universe. For a few more minutes, Murkoni was a god. But Quent Murkoni wasn’t into power trips. He was into doing his job right and respecting his superiors. That’s what had gotten him this assignment, after all.

  “Yes, sir. Thank you.” Murkoni sat down two chairs away from the commander as the commander moved the chair between them to the side. “Sir, I won’t waste your time,” he let each word enter the room slow and clear. “The reports are true. And it’s worse. Vara has already begun building the suits. Now, fortunately, he doesn’t have the same technology that was used a hundred years ago and his pilots won’t have generations of breeding behind them. But,” he paused here, “He does have pilots and he is producing the suits,” another pause, “En masse.” Murkoni finished this and let it settle in.

  The commander sat back in his chair, closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. He was an impressive man to look at. His face was chiseled, hair grey-white and closely cropped, balding on top. When he opened his eyes, they were clear blue and penetrating. Not a trace of red in them.

  “I deeply appreciate your work on this one, Murkoni. I know how much of a risk it was, but as you know, this information is supremely important. I will not forget. Neither will the Guard.” The commander sat and stared. Moments passed. Murkoni sat still and waited. This was part of the job.

  “If you would, Quent,” said the Commander, still staring, “I have another assignment for you. I will be needing the service of an old member. Get a couple hours rest. When you’re ready to go, the details will be waiting for you.”

  “Thank you, sir.”


  Ruck Kedder paced the shipdeck in heavy boots. He hadn’t been this excited in sixteen years. At least sixteen. He glanced again at the display showing their current location and time to destination. Twelve hours, twentyseven minutes, eight seconds.

  “Who’s piloting this thing? How about touching the celerator a little?”

  He sat down and ran a hand over his grey-haired head. He hadn’t shaved it in a while. Face either. He had put on his most formal clothes for the trip, a faded shirt, pants patched with leather, his usual rough overcoat. He had burned his uniform shortly after leaving the Guard, but he had kept his decorations and they were now sewn to the left sleeve of his overcoat, just below the shoulder. He stared from clear grey eyes, from a hard and worn face.

  He thought about his run-in with the scout again. Nice guy. Very professional. The scout had found him at his ranch on Obrie, the backwater planet he had decideded on years ago. He had just come in from the morning’s ride. ‘Commander Briddon requests your service,’ the scout had said. ‘Somethings come up, something requiring your special expertise.’ That’s all. He accepted some food and he was gone. Just like that.

  Ruck Kedder had what some would call expertise in a variety of interesting areas, but ‘special expertise.’ And from Briddon. That meant only one thing – the suits. They had been outlawed for almost a hundred years, had been unheard of for decades. Ruck himself had not used one in… a while.

  He stood up and began pacing the shipdeck. He’d know more in twelve hours and eighteen minutes, give or take.

  “Commander, he’s here.”

  “I’ll meet him on ship deck,” Briddon said into his intercom. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. “No turning back,” he said.

  Briddon walked out onto the deck.

  He saw before him a ghost from his past, standing in front of the navigation cluster, back turned. Here was a man he trusted almost not at all. But he trusted him completely to stay true to his own code and his own nature. That code and that nature had almost guaranteed this meeting.

  “Hello, Kedder.”

  Ruck turned and grinned.

  “Well, hello Commander. One person I had not thought I’d be seeing again in this life.”
  Briddon smiled, stuck out his hand. “Past is past.” Ruck grabbed it. “It’s the future needs us now.”

  They shook hands and Briddon motioned with his head to the door he had come from. “Let’s talk.” Briddon lead them to the same room where he had heard the awful, but expected news from Murkoni just a week before.