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It was an hour after sundown, and the stars were blazing down through the canopy of trees above them, when the fourteen men from the Qasaman village of Milika arrived at their chosen hunting spot.

“There,” Gama Yithtra murmured, pointing toward the north. “Do you hear them?”

“Yes,” Merrick Moreau Broom murmured back as he keyed in his optical enhancers. The trees were thick in that direction, but he was able to catch glimpses of the grav lifts’ glow through the branches. From the high infrared output, he guessed the Trofts had been at this for at least three hours. “Sounds like four of them, all spotters. I don’t hear a transport.”

“Don’t worry, it’s here,” Yithtra said. “Marslo Charak saw it late in the afternoon, about two kilometers west.” He turned to Merrick, his lips twisting in a smirk. “It would seem that your worlds are about to receive yet another dose of your own chosen medicine.”

Merrick didn’t answer. The second Troft invasion of Qasama was well underway, with all the alien ships that had fled two weeks ago already returned, with probably more on the way. The scattered reports that had come in from the rest of the Great Arc indicated that the invaders were unhurriedly and systematically blasting the capital city of Sollas to rubble, and had put the Qasamans’ other four main cities and three smaller ones under siege. So far the Trofts seemed to be mostly ignoring the villages, but Merrick knew it was only a matter of time before the sky out here would also fill up with alien warships.

Yet in the midst of all that, Yithtra somehow always managed to find time to get in a dig about what the Trofts were probably doing to Aventine and the other Cobra Worlds with the razorarms they were harvesting from Qasama’s forests.

Earlier that day, Merrick had tried explaining to Yithtra why the Cobra Worlds had seeded Qasama with the predators two generations ago, that it had been an attempt to free the Qasamans from the subtle grip of the semi-sentient native birds called mojos. But Yithtra hadn’t seemed interested in hearing the Cobra Worlds’ side of the story, and Merrick had given up the effort.

Fortunately, not everyone in Milika was so antagonistic toward their offworld visitor. Most were at least neutral toward him, while a few had apparently heard reports from friends or relatives about the battles in Sollas that Merrick and his mother had taken part in. Those few treated Merrick with a degree of actual respect.

And even some of the neutral ones were starting to get tired of Yithtra’s verbal barbs. “Seems to me there’s plenty of medicine to go around,” an older Qasaman named Balis Kinstra growled. “Can we perhaps keep our minds on the job, Gama Yithtra?”

“My mind is on the job,” Yithtra said calmly. “Teams of two: spread out and find the freighter. You, Balis Kinstra, since you’re such a friend of demon warriors, will pair with Merrick Moreau. Runners meet back here in thirty minutes with reports.”

There were murmurs of acknowledgement, and the Qasamans paired up and slipped away into the woods.

“I must apologize for Gama Yithtra,” Kinstra said as the others’ footsteps faded into the forest. “He doesn’t speak for all of us.”

“I know that,” Merrick assured him. “And to be honest, he has a point.”

“Point or not, this is not the place for such debates.” Kinstra gestured around them. “You’re the one most experienced with these invaders. What are your thoughts?”

Merrick looked around them. During the Trofts’ first incursion onto Qasama, the aliens had simply sent out spotter aircraft equipped with infrareds and motion sensors to locate their target razorarms, which were then neutralized with small tranquilizer gas bombs. When the spotters decided they had enough for a pick-up, a freighter would put down in a convenient clearing and armed parties would go out to collect the sleeping predators.

The parties had been careful to steer clear of the villages scattered through the forest. But they’d quickly learned that avoiding the villages didn’t necessarily mean avoiding the villagers. The rural Qasamans were just as outraged by the invasion as their city counterparts, and while there were few actual soldiers among them there were plenty of expert hunters.

It wasn’t long before the Trofts discovered the flaw in their harvesting technique: there simply weren’t all that many clearings large enough for even a small freighter to put down in. That meant the harvesting parties had to locate a suitable landing spot before they sent out their spotter ships. All the Qasamans had to do was study the search pattern and figure out which clearing the Trofts were planning to use, then be waiting in force when the freighter put down.

The Trofts had lost a couple of harvesting parties before they caught on. Their next approach had been to create their own clearings, blasting the trees with lasers and occasionally with missiles from above so that the villagers wouldn’t know in advance where they would be landing.

The Qasaman response had been to track the razorarms, concentrating on the larger family groups that the Trofts preferred, and scatter their own hunters around the most likely target zones. Often they guessed wrong, but there were enough times when they guessed right. And of course, once the trees started falling, any team within earshot knew exactly where the evening’s entertainment was going to be held.

The harvesting had stopped, along with all other Troft activity, when the Sollas forces drove the invaders off the planet. But with this second incursion the razorarm raids had resumed. The aliens’ latest tactic was to not land the freighters at all, but to simply hover over their latest prize and rappel a team of soldiers down to roll the sleeping animal onto a lift pad and winch it up.

Unfortunately for them, hovering freighters made wonderful targets, and the five days of calm between invasions had given the Qasaman military enough time to get a few heavy weapons into the villagers’ hands. Two of the village teams south of Milika had succeeded in severely damaging Troft freighters with mortar fire a couple of days ago, and there were rumors that a team still farther south had destroyed one completely.

The Troft response had been to again halt the hunts, and for the past two nights the spotters and freighters had stayed close to the forces besieging the cities. But tonight they were back.

Merrick was looking forward to seeing what new wrinkle they’d come up with.

“For starters, I’m guessing they’re finished with the hover-and-rappel approach,” he told Kinstra. “That one cost them way too much.”

“Agreed,” Kinstra said. He paused, and with his enhanced vision Merrick saw the man’s nose wrinkle. “You smell that?”

Merrick took a cautious sniff. The air was brimming with the usual mix of Qasaman woodland aromas. “Is there something different?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Kinstra said, sniffing harder. “It just smells odd. Like…springtime.”

Merrick frowned. “Come again?”

“I know that sounds strange,” Kinstra said. “But it just smells somehow like it’s springtime.”

“Okay,” Merrick said, sniffing the air again. Like that would help. He’d been on Qasama barely three weeks, and was just now starting to figure out which aromas came from cooking or perfumes and which were from the local flora and fauna. Even the spine leopards the Cobra Worlds had seeded here, the predators the Qasamans called razorarms, smelled slightly different than they did on Aventine. Probably a result of their altered diet.

There was a sudden quiet rustle from the trees behind them. Merrick spun around, his arms snapping up and his hands curling into fingertip-laser firing positions. Sure enough, there was a razorarm back there, striding through the undergrowth.

But it wasn’t heading toward Merrick and Kinstra. In fact, it didn’t seem to even notice the two humans. It was angling somewhere off to Merrick’s right, its ears twitching, the mojo clinging onto its back fluttering its wings for balance. The predator and its avian symbiont passed by and disappeared again into the forest.

“That’s odd,” Kinstra murmured. “I’ve never seen a razorarm do that. They always at least look at a hunter. So does the mojo.”

“Assessing the threat versus snack benefits,” Merrick agreed, frowning after the departed razorarm. It had been a long time since he’d been on duty out in Aventine’s frontier region, but there was something about the way the razorarm had moved that had seemed vaguely familiar.

And then, abruptly, he got it. The razorarm’s disinterest, the spring-like smell, the predator heading directly into the gentle wind— “It’s pheromones,” he told Kinstra. “The Trofts are using razorarm mating pheromones. In the spring, when it’s mating season—”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” Kinstra interrupted hastily. The Qasamans had a long list of topics that were taboo for casual, non-family conversation, and reproductive issues were near the top of that file. “Clever. They send up spotter aircraft to distract our attention, while meanwhile luring the razorarms to an entirely different location.”

“Clever and elegant both,” Merrick agreed. “Certainly compared to some of the other stuff they’ve been pulling lately.” He gestured after the animal. “I’ll go after it, see if I can find the pickup spot. You wait here until the runners get back and follow me.”

“No time,” Kinstra said. “It’s thirty minutes until the runners return, and then they’ll have to go back and collect their huntmates. If the invaders are smart, they’ll have gathered their quota and left by then.”

Unfortunately, he was probably right. The Trofts had certainly had enough experience with the Qasaman attack teams to have figured out their typical response profile. “You’d better stay here anyway,” he said. “Gama Yithtra may return early, and he’ll be highly annoyed if he misses the party.”

“Gama Yithtra’s wounded feelings aren’t our concern,” Kinstra said tartly. “We go together.” He gestured in the direction the razorarm had gone. “And this talk wastes time.”

Merrick hesitated, then nodded. “All right,” he said. “Quickly, and quietly.”

Kinstra slung his rifle over his shoulder. “Lead the way.”

Quickly was easy. The forest floor was deeply dark at night, but Merrick’s optical enhancements were more than able to compensate. He circled the various trees and bushes with ease, dodging the more subtle obstacles nearly as effortlessly. Kinstra, running two meters behind him, would be making sure he precisely hit each of the Cobra’s footprints.

Quietly was more problematic. If there was a way to move silently through knee-high branches and a bed of dead leaves, Merrick had never learned it.

But that was all right. The Trofts would expecting to hear the sound of large creatures traveling through the undergrowth.

And then, suddenly, they had arrived. Through the trees, Merrick spotted a curved wall of dark metal in the middle of a clearing, with silent figures moving restlessly back and forth in front of it.

He slowed to a halt, signaling for Kinstra do the same. “There,” he whispered, pointing.

“I see them,” Kinstra whispered back as he unslung his rifle from his shoulder. “We need to get closer.”

Merrick considered suggesting the other stay back while he scouted, decided it would be a waste of breath, and nodded. “Quietly.”

A minute later, they had reached the last line of big trees at the edge of the clearing. They took up position behind two of the largest and Merrick cautiously peered out.

The freighter was a bit smaller than some he’d seen the Trofts use. But it looked more than capable of the task of hauling predators across the forty-five light-years separating Qasama and Aventine. There were four Trofts on guard duty, their laser rifles held ready, a compact missile launcher squatting on the ground in front of them like a short cylindrical guard dog. Four more of the aliens were off to the side, maneuvering a sleeping razorarm onto a cart for transport through the open hatchway behind them.

Kinstra leaned close. “Launcher.”

Merrick nodded. The Trofts’ tiny antipersonnel missiles had proved to be one of the invaders’ most devastating weapons. Their primary targets were always Qasamans radio transmitters, after which they were designed to home in on the sounds of gunfire and the heat signatures of large lasers. Daulo Sammon, Merrick’s mother’s old friend from her first covert visit to this world some three decades ago, had been severely wounded by one of those missiles during the Qasamans’ first counterattack back in Sollas.

Throughout the twelve days of Merrick’s own recovery the Qasaman doctors had pumped him full of their exotic rapid-healing drugs, one side effect of which had been to leave his memories of his convalescence extremely hazy. Still, he could distinctly remember several occasions where he’d asked about Daulo. What he couldn’t remember was whether he’d ever gotten a straight answer back.

With an effort, he shook away the thought. His recovery was still incomplete, and while his current regimen of drugs didn’t make him go all loopy the way the last batch had, they did have a tendency to encourage mental wandering.

He focused again on the enemy encampment. The missile launcher was definitely the first thing on their to-do list. Merrick keyed a target-lock onto the launcher’s base, where the weapon’s sensor/guidance array was located, then turned to the roving soldier patrol. They were wearing full armor, but at this range a shot from the anti-armor laser running down Merrick’s left leg should cut through the aliens’ neck protection with ease and rack up a couple of quick kills.

Four guards, plus the launcher. Five shots in all. With the task of aiming and firing controlled by Merrick’s nanocomputer, he could probably get off that many blasts before the Trofts even had time to react. He targeted the nearest soldier, moved on to the second.

And paused. For no particular reason, a story about his great-grandfather Jonny Moreau floated up from his memory. How the legendary First Cobra and revered Cobra Worlds statesman, when faced by a ship full of Trofts, had chosen to merely neutralize instead of kill.

Of course, that situation had been entirely different. Jonny had been alone and hoping to make a deal with his captors. Merrick was in the midst of an invasion, facing attackers who were currently running a grinding machine across Qasama’s capital city and probably killing untold numbers of citizens in the process.

Merrick had already killed in this war. He’d taken more lives than he’d ever dreamed would fall by his hand. But all of those enemies had been already shooting at him or other humans, or had been in the process of taking civilian hostages whom Merrick was committed to rescuing. These particular Trofts weren’t doing any such thing.

But they were collecting predators to use against Merrick’s own people. Wasn’t that just as bad?

He grimaced, his sudden indecision both unexpected and disconcerting. Was he rethinking the whole concept of this war and his place in it?

Or was this simply a reaction to his own near-death on the battlefield? Was he shying away from killing in the hope that by doing so he might himself survive?

“Merrick Moreau?” Kinstra prompted.

Abruptly, Merrick came to a decision. Releasing the target locks on the Troft guards, he instead locked onto their weapons. The ultimate purpose of these counterattacks was to discourage the razorarm hunts and drive the Trofts from the forests. He could do that just as well by chasing them back to the cities, where they would be the Qasaman military’s problem.

“Merrick Moreau?” Kinstra repeated, more urgently this time.

“Ready,” Merrick said. “Keep your head down.” Moving out of the relative safety of the tree, he rolled onto his right side, giving his left leg the freedom of movement the nanocomputer would need to handle the fire pattern Merrick had set for it. He took a deep breath, and triggered his laser.

The brilliant beam slashed through the darkness of the night, a multiple stuttering of light cutting through leaves and undergrowth and flash-vaporizing the metal, ceramic, and plastic of the launcher and the Trofts’ lasers. The last of the five shots blazed out and Merrick pushed himself up off the ground for a quick assessment.

And dropped instantly back down as the launcher erupted in a blistering staccato fire of its own, its antipersonnel missiles screaming through the forest and blasting huge chunks of wood from the trees above Merrick’s head.

Reflexively, he reached out a hand to grab Kinstra and pull him down. But the Qasaman was already there, pressed against the matted covering of dead leaves, his mouth moving as he shouted something. Merrick adjusted his auditory enhancers, trying to filter out the cracks of the explosives. “—posed to kill them!” he caught Kinstra’s last words.

“We’re supposed to stop them,” Merrick called back. A new crunching sound penetrated his hearing, and he looked up to see the tree he’d been hiding behind starting to lean sideways as the Troft missiles tore apart its trunk half a meter above Merrick’s eyes. “Come on,” Merrick called, getting a grip on Kinstra’s arm. The tree above them leaned farther and farther, then ponderously toppled over, crashing through the other trees and bushes beside it.

And as it slammed into the forest floor, its impact raising a blinding cloud of leaves and dust, Merrick pulled Kinstra up onto his elbows and knees and headed away as fast as they could crawl.

They’d made about twenty meters when the missile launcher finally fell silent. Even as both men turned carefully around, they spotted the glow of the repulsorlifts flickering through the trees as the freighter headed hastily into the night sky.

* * *

A thin layer of clouds had covered up the stars by the time the team once again passed through the gate into the village of Milika.

It was, for Merrick, an odd homecoming. When he’d first been brought back here eight days ago to complete his recovery, the village’s lights had glowed cheerfully long into the night. But not anymore. Since the second wave of Trofts had arrived, Milika and the other forest villages had returned to the rhythms of humanity’s past, to the time when activity was governed by the sun. Now, the town began to close down when the sun reached the treetops, the venders bidding farewell to their final customers of the day and hurriedly closing up their shops. By the time the first stars appeared, the open areas of Milika were all but deserted, the people busy with their evening meals and quiet indoor activities as the village was slowly swallowed by the darkening forest.

It was a little silly, in Merrick’s opinion, given that the Trofts’ infrared detectors were perfectly capable of picking out the heat signatures of several hundred humans from the relative coolness of the forest around them. If they came looking for villages, they could certainly find them.

The Qasamans had to know that, too. Perhaps the darkness and silence was a matter of token defiance, something to help the villagers’ keep their focus, to keep their animosity toward the invaders fresh in their minds.

The team began to split up as they trudged through the village, each of the men and teens heading to their individual homes where anxious family members awaited them. Kinstra was the last to leave, murmuring a final farewell as he walked up the steps to his home.

And Merrick was alone.

He’d never had trouble with solitude before. Solitude was time to observe the world around him, and to think in the quietness.

But the world now wrapped around him was hardly conducive toward peaceful contemplation. And all of his thoughts were edged with fear and darkness.

What was happening in the cities? More importantly, what was happening to the people there he’d left behind there? Daulo Sammon, badly injured, whose fate he still didn’t know. The Djinni warrior Carsh Zoshak, who in a few short days of combat had grown from a suspicious and reluctant fellow soldier to a trusted comrade and true friend.

But worst of all were the haunting questions of what was happening to Merrick’s family.

He looked up at the clouds drifting by overhead. Had his mother made it safely back to Aventine? Or had she been intercepted by the Trofts and captured or killed?

Merrick’s younger brother Lorne was also on Aventine, most likely smack in the middle of whatever the Trofts were doing there. Merrick’s father and sister were probably in even worse shape, stuck on the hell-world Caelian.

Were any of them looking up at their own stars right now? Were they thinking about Merrick, and wondering if he was dead?

“So you return.”

Merrick lowered his eyes from the sky and his contemplation. Davi Krites, the doctor who Senior Advisor Moffren Omnathi had sent from Sollas to monitor Merrick’s recovery, was standing at the entrance to the courtyard of the Sammon family home. His arms were folded across his chest, and Merrick didn’t need his Cobra opticals to see the annoyance in the other’s face and stance. “Did you think I wouldn’t?” he asked as he walked up to the doctor.

“We could hear the sound of the missile attack from here, you know,” Krites said grimly. “I fully expected the others to bring you back in pieces.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Merrick assured him. “Probably sounded worse than it was.”

“I’m sure you know best,” Krites said, running a critical eye over Merrick’s body. “At least you’re not bleeding. Not externally, at any rate.”

“I really am fine,” Merrick said. “If you’re concerned, you can haul me in for an exam right now. I promise I won’t argue.”

“Tempting,” Krites said. “But you’d just fall asleep on my table. Morning will be soon enough. Besides, Master Sammon wants to see you.”

Merrick felt his stomach tighten. Fadil Sammon, Daulo’s son, had been wide awake earlier this afternoon, and for longer than usual. Merrick had hoped the young Qasaman would be asleep by now. “I’ll go at once,” he said.

He started past Krites, stopped as the doctor caught his arm. “He’ll want to know about his father,” the other warned.

“I know,” Merrick said. “I’ll just have to tell him again that there’s no news.”

“I don’t like to see him agitated,” Krites said, still gripping Merrick’s arm. “Can’t you give him some hope?”

“You mean lie to him?”

“You’re not Qasaman,” Krites reminded him. “You grew up in a different culture. Your reactions and facial nuances are different from ours. You might be able to get away with it.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.” Merrick gestured to Krites’s hand on his arm. “May I?”

Reluctantly, Krites let go. Nodding a farewell, Merrick crossed the courtyard and went into the house.

Fadil’s suite was at one end of the north wing, with the size and lavish decoration that befit the son of an important village leader. The furniture in the gathering area was made of carved wood and tanned krissjaw hide, dyed with subtle and shimmering stains. There were layered paintings on the walls and sculptured plant holders with flowing greenery scattered around the room. Embedded gemstones in the ceiling gave the illusion of the night sky, and night breezes flowed in through wide, open windows.

All of which made the stark metal medical bed resting in the center of the darkened room a disconcerting visual shock.

“Merrick Moreau?”

“Yes,” Merrick confirmed, keying in his opticals as he started across the room. Fadil had turned his head to look toward his visitor, and even in Merrick’s artificially enhanced view the young Qasaman’s eyes looked unpleasantly bright. “How may I serve you?”

It took Merrick eight steps to get to the bed. Fadil watched him the whole way in silence, then turned away. “No news,” he said quietly.

“No,” Merrick said. So much for lying to the other. The powerful mind-enhancing drugs that Fadil had taken back in Sollas still saturated his brain, giving him powers of observation and analysis well beyond those of normal human beings. The effect was usually temporary, Krites had told Merrick, but sometimes could be permanent.

There was no such uncertainty about the drugs’ side effects. The paralysis that had engulfed Fadil’s body below his neck barely an hour after the mind-enhancement procedure was permanent.

Fadil’s contribution to the war effort had made him a quadriplegic. Forever.

“What’s happening in Sollas?” Fadil asked.

Merrick wasn’t even tempted to lie. “According to the last report, the Troft ships spent most of the day blowing up more of the western and northeastern parts of the city,” he said. “They’ve probably stopped now—so far their pattern’s been to break off the demolition work at nightfall.”

“They want to see what it is they’re destroying,” Fadil murmured. “They don’t want to risk missing something when they have only infrared and light-amplification to see by.”

“Probably,” Merrick said. “It still seems like they’re taking an awfully long time to destroy a single city.”

“Because they’re not really interested in Sollas itself,” Fadil told him. “Their goal is to destroy the subcity—all of its levels, all of its chambers. The part that’s aboveground is merely in the way.”

Merrick nodded. That last part was sadly obvious. What wasn’t obvious was whether or not the Shahni and the Djinn would be able to mount any sort of defense or counterattack before Sollas and all of rest of the cities had been turned to rubble and dead bodies.

“And you’ve heard nothing about my father?” Fadil asked into Merrick’s thoughts.

“No,” Merrick said. Fadil had already concluded that, of course, from his reading of Merrick’s face and body language. But even so, he asked the question.

As he always did, every time he saw Merrick. Always at least twice. Sometimes three or four times.

For a moment Fadil was silent. “Perhaps tomorrow there’ll be news,” he said at last. “I’m told the invaders launched a missile attack on you tonight. Were there casualties?”

“None,” Merrick said. “And it wasn’t exactly an attack. I blew up the guidance section of one of their antipersonnel launchers, and the thing went berserk. Probably programmed to shift to a random, rapid-fire spread within a defined arc to try to drive away whoever’s attacking them.”

“Thus giving themselves time to regroup for counterattack or escape.”

“In this case the latter,” Merrick said. “They were in the air before the rest of the team even caught up with us.”

“Did they leave with razorarms?”

“I don’t know,” Merrick said. “But if they did get any, I’m guessing they didn’t get the number they were hoping for. I think we can claim at least half a victory on this one.”

“Indeed,” Fadil said. “Now tell me: why are you still alive?”

Merrick felt an unpleasant tingle run up his back. Gama Yithtra, after the rest of the team had belatedly arrived, had been furious that Merrick and Kinstra had taken on the Trofts all by themselves. Was Fadil suggesting that Yithtra might actually have ordered some kind of lethal action against them for that? “I don’t understand,” he said carefully.

“You said the launcher fired a random pattern,” Fadil said. “How is it none of the missiles struck you?”

Merrick frowned, thinking back. “Because we were flat on the ground,” he said slowly, “and all the shots were over our heads.”

“Does that seem odd to you?”

“Yes, now that you mention it,” Merrick agreed. “I didn’t even notice at the time.”

“Of course not.” In the darkness, Merrick saw Fadil’s bitter-edged smile. “You still have your arms and legs.”

Merrick felt a fresh ache in his heart. “Fadil Sammon—”

“No, Merrick Moreau, don’t speak,” Fadil interrupted quietly. “That was unfair and cruel. My apologies. The decision that put me in this situation was mine and mine alone. And many others have suffered far worse.”

He gave a small nod toward the window. “And through it all, I did my part for the people of Qasama. My gamble and sacrifice were not for nothing.”

“I know,” Merrick said, wishing he knew what that meant. Whatever Fadil had taken the mind-enhancing drugs for, it had apparently been secret enough that neither Merrick nor anyone else in Milika had heard anything about it.

“No you don’t,” Fadil said, a touch of wry humor peeking through the depression. “But that’s all right. Someday, if we win, all Qasama will know. And if we lose, no one will be left to care.”

“We’re going to win,” Merrick said firmly. “I know my mother. One way or another, she’ll get Aventine to send the Cobras we need. The next time we throw the Trofts off Qasama, it’ll be for good.”

“Perhaps.” Fadil nodded again, this time toward Merrick. “You’d best get to bed. Though the invaders’ missiles may not have harmed you, I doubt you made it through the mission unscathed.”

Merrick shrugged. “I’m mostly unscathed.”

But once again, Fadil was right. Merrick could feel fresh aches and pains in a couple of places where his not-entirely healed muscles and skin had taken fresh damage. Dr. Krites would undoubtedly find more small injuries in the morning when he did a complete exam, and Dr. Krites would be very unhappy about it.

But that was tomorrow’s trouble. Merrick had already had enough for today.

“You’d better get some sleep yourself,” he told Fadil, backing toward the door. “Maybe there’ll be news in the morning.”

“Perhaps,” Fadil said. “Good-night, Merrick Moreau. May God watch over you.”

“And you, Fadil Sammon.”

And with that, Merrick escaped from the room. And from the pitiful creature that Fadil Sammon had become.

* * *

After all the stress of the night’s attack Merrick had looked forward to sleeping at least a little later than usual into the morning.

He didn’t. The sun was barely up when he was jolted awake by the sound of heavy grav lifts. Rolling out of his bed, wincing at the fresh strains in his muscles, he slipped over to the window and eased aside the curtain.

To find a Troft warship like the ones he and the Djinn had fought in Sollas settling onto the road that led to the main Milika gate.

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