I’d been back at Dashiell for two weeks, and this had happened countless times already.

A routine assignment. A simple one-jump trip to a nearby star system. A well- known contact. Supposedly-policed spaceways.

And here I was, fighting interdiction by an Alliance Enforcer, near the navigation beacon orbiting Hirapa. One jump from home. The Emperor’s back yard.

Some hours ago I’d received my briefing. Routine time-stamped title deeds, to be delivered to the representative of a Patron in Hirapa. Couldn’t be simpler. I’d fired up the Mule and, cat in tow, blasted off from Dashiell expecting to be back within hours.

Within seconds of landing in the destination system the sod was upon me.

‘You have something I want, commander.’

My eyebrows raised. My cargo hold was empty. He was in the heart of Empire space, hundreds of light years from the Alliance. 

‘Um. A map?’ I typed back.

‘Prepare to die, greenhorn!’

‘What does that even mean?’ I began to tap, when his interdiction tether grabbed the ship with a colossal jolt.

I fought with the joystick, grimly trying to wriggle the ship free. After some seconds I sighed, exasperated, and throttled down in submission.

“Bugger it, cat. I’ll just shoot the bastard.”

‘Now you die!’ Pinged the comms. 

Why do they talk like that?

The bogey sped past underneath me, coming up and over my cockpit to bring his guns to bear. It was a Diamondback Explorer. I’m no combat pilot but I knew I could dispatch bovine space junk like that without too much trouble. I punched the command to deploy hard points, and with a pleasing shunt the panels retracted in front of the window and my twin multicannons emerged.

‘To unknown and overzealous commander. You are a fuckhead. Repeat: fuckhead,’ I typed. Then I boosted the engines, diverted power from shields to weapons and trained my lasers on his bulky silhouette.

It was a short battle. Those Explorers have a large weapon slot under the nose, which can hide a nasty plasma accelerator. Happily this one didn’t. Shields still intact ten minutes later, I watched smugly as he exploded in front of the glowing star.


The rest of the trip was uninterrupted. Woodroffe Terminal is a small industrial outpost orbiting an unremarkable moon, several hundred light years away.

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I kept a wary eye on the sensor panel for more Enforcers, but when the landing gear connected with the floodlit landing pad some half an hour later I’d seen nothing but traders.


The hidden voice at the control tower told me to head downstairs to the mess. Locking the Mule behind me I ventured down into the station. I found the contact at a trestle table, doing paperwork, drinking tea.

“Ms Vasse?”


“I’ve been sent to find you. I have deeds from the Imperial Private Expeditionary Company.”

She stood up. She was short – not markedly so, but enough to encourage a touch of chin-jutting defiance. Her face was angular, hard and plectrum-shaped. It struck me that, though unconventional, she was actually rather beautiful.

She tossed her auburn hair wearily over her shoulder.

“Hand them over, then.”

She stood biting her lip as the documents downloaded. 

“How was the trip?” She asked dully. 

“Interdicted by an Alliance Enforcer at the jump point. The fourth time this week.”

“Yeah, they’re getting ballsier. It’s a problem.”

“Their territory is growing. I don’t know why we keep wringing our hands about the Federation, when the real threat is the Alliance. The Feds can’t stop arguing amongst themselves.”

“Mmm. I’ve been wondering what will surface now that Halsey’s awake.”

“I was away when that came out. I visited the centre of the galaxy,” I said airily. 

“My friend did that. His life support malfunctioned and he had to drink his own urine for ten days.” 

There was an awkward pause. 

“Um. That didn’t happen to me,” I said weakly. She folded her arms. 

“So. Your outfit are growing quickly,” she said finally. “Pretty soon you’ll be taking on TravSol.”


“You want to watch out. Upstart commercial outfit, challenging Patrons.”

She was referring to the Pact. A Patronage government who controlled many of the settlements in the ‘Sticks, IPEC had been squaring up to take territory from them for weeks. There wasn’t yet talk of war, but the word hung heavy and unsaid throughout the system. I remembered that the Hirapa Empire League, Felixa Vasse’s employers, were a Patronage as well. 

“Maybe. Where are you from?” I tried to move the conversation to more neutral territory. 

“A cold planet. There’s not much to do, so we work. We export a lot.”

She passed the data packet back to me. 

“Sounds efficient,” I said. What brings you here?”

“The lovely weather. You’re rather overdressed for a courier, aren’t you?”

“Ha. You never know when you’ll be called upon to be diplomatic.”

“That certainly is a diplomatic necktie.”

“Are your guests all made to feel this welcome?”

“Most of them realise for how long that welcome extends, commander. I’m afraid I’m rather busy.”

She raised an eyebrow. I realised, with slight sadness, that the meeting was over. 

“Well. It was lovely to meet you,” I said, rather pathetically. “Hopefully our paths cross again.”

“I have no doubt. See you around, IPEC Agent.”

Felixa Vasse turned and sat down again. I returned to my ship, to make the return journey to CD-63 201.

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