an excerpt from


Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: Destruction of Illusions


by Keith R.A. DeCandido




[Excerpted from the novel on sale in February from Tor Books. Click here to read more about the novel. Copyright © 2003 Tribune Entertainment Inc. and Fireworks Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. All lefts, too.]

* * *


THE EUREKA MARU, OLIVARES TRUST, 302 AFC

"Welcome to Olivares Trust. If you can't fix it here, it can't be fixed."
--sign in every landing port on Olivares Trust
Beka maneuvered the Eureka Maru toward one of the drift's docking ports. At this speed, they'd be there in twenty minutes, and in range for instant communication in ten. She could've gone faster, but after playing cat-and-mouse-in-the-Slipstream with Takilov's Banshees, she wanted to be as gentle with her ship as she could. The Maru had once again come through in a pinch, and Beka believed in rewarding her with gentle treatment where possible. Especially since gentle treatment wasn't often the norm.

She loved drifts. They combined the best elements of ships and planets--though, to Beka's mind, there were far more like the former than the latter. They had a controlled atmosphere and gravity, they had structure and stability, and they controlled their weather. Floating in space under their own steam near Slip points, drifts served as ports of call, repair stations, rest-and-recreation facilities, shopping centers, and interstellar post offices. In fact, their stopover at Takilov Drift--a snake pit Beka would happily have avoided, all things being equal--had been made solely in order to pick up a cargo-load full of mail. Beka had always thought the universe would be a much better place if it was just drifts and ships and they did away with planets altogether.

Well, okay, we'd need somewhere to grow food and things like that, she thought grudgingly, but you can automate most of that. It's not like anyone should have to, y'know, set foot on a planet or anything.

"Boss?"

It was the third time Seamus Harper had said that word, and Beka, for the third time, replied with a terse, "Shut up, Harper." For good measure, she added, "You're still at the top of my list of People I Want to Beat Until They Bleed."

From one of the aft control stations, Fred Vexpag chuckled. "Hell, I thought ol' Bobby had the top spot on that list."

Beka spared a glance behind her at Vexpag, from whom she did not appreciate the mention of her now-very-much-former lover Bobby Jensen. "And you're next after Harper. I told you I wanted a small diversion, not a re-creation of the Battle of Witchhead."

Vexpag shrugged and spit out the toothpick that had been residing in the right-hand corner of his mouth. "Needed cover to steal the ship back. Explosions gave us cover. We got the ship. Don't see the problem, really." He pulled a fresh toothpick out of his pocket and stuck it in the left-hand corner of his mouth.

"The problem is that explosives are expensive. Our repair list was already long before I had to make three Slips in a row. Speaking of which…" She glanced over at Harper. "Get to the engine room. That'll serve two really useful functions."

Still looking abashed, Harper said, "What's that, Boss?"

"One, I need a damage report. Two, I need you out of my sight."

Harper grunted an acknowledgment, and Beka heard the heavy sound of his work boots on the deck. Then they stopped, and he said, "Can I just say something here?"

"Can I stop you?" Beka muttered. Keeping Harper quiet was always a temporary prospect at best.

"I had no way of knowin' that guy was a narc. I mean, c'mon, usually I can smell a cop a mile off, but this guy practically had 'hardened criminal' tattooed on his forehead!"

Beka blew out a breath. "It's Takilov Drift, Harper. The cops are the most hardened criminals there."

"Well, yeah, I know that now, but my point is, I thought for sure that--"

Beka pressed a button on her handgrips. The computer intoned, "Autopilot engaged." Then she turned around to face her engineer.

"Harper?"

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Damage report."

"Right, Boss."

He turned and left.

Beka sighed. Harper was a good kid. Her current animus against him notwithstanding, he was probably the most valuable member of her crew. Not bad for a short, dirty, pale, hyperactive, sickly human she and Bobby rescued from the wastes of Earth years ago. But he'd made huge improvements to all of the Maru's systems, in ways that Beka didn't think were possible with the equipment at hand. Hell, she wasn't sure it was possible with top-of-the-line height-of-the-Commonwealth equipment. She sometimes wondered what Harper could accomplish on an old High Guard ship or a Nietzschean fighter.

At the mental image of the very unmilitary Harper in one of those archaic High Guard uniforms, Beka couldn't help but smile. Even more absurd was Harper--who didn't even have the standard enhancements most humans got done to their DNA, much less the genetic overhaul of a Nietzschean--on a fighter belonging to the Drago-Kazov or the Sabra Prides.

As soon as Harper was gone, Vexpag picked up an old conversational thread. "Look, you didn't say we were on a budget or nothin', you just said to create a diversion."

"Odd, isn't it, how your diversions tend to involve high explosives?" That was the Reverend Behemiel Far-Traveller--or Rev Bem, as Harper had taken to calling him after mangling the pronunciation of "Behemiel" for the ninth time--who spoke in his usual dry tone.

Beka added, "Really expensive high explosives."

Vexpag glanced over at Rev and grinned. "Don't remember you complainin' all that much back on Havnil when I saved your hairy hide." He turned back to Beka. "'Sides, they deserved it. Wouldn't let me on board to get my spare box'a toothpicks."

Rev bared his teeth. "Certainly an offense worthy of explosive decompression."

Looking back to Rev, Vexpag said, "Hey, I know what I'm doin'. Nobody got hurt, and I kept the big booms away from the outer hull. I ain't no murderer."

"Enough, you two!" Beka said, unable to help but smile. "Look, I'm not really that mad at you, Fred, but--I just wish you'd chosen a diversion less--costly."

"Like I said, you didn't say we were on a budget."

"I shouldn't have to by now." Beka slid the pilot's chair into standby mode, which caused it to make another squeak. She climbed out of the pilot's well to the aft of the flight deck. "We're always on a budget. We've always been on a budget. And at the rate we're going, we're always going to be on a budget."

"Fine." Vexpag tossed his toothpick onto the deck. "I'm gonna shower. 'Scuse me."

He turned on his heel and walked out.

As his footfalls faded, Beka turned to Rev, who looked at her with irritatingly placid blue eyes. "I know that look, Rev."

On any other Magog, the smile Rev hit her with would have been the prelude to a fine dining experience on Beka's spleen, but the Wayist had been with Beka for six years now, and she knew better. At first glance, of course, there was no mistaking him for anything but a Magog: the leathery skin, the wild mane of fur that covered him from head to toe, the razor-like claws, the menacing teeth, the flattened nose, the tapered ears, and the sharp horns that protruded from his forehead, cheeks, and chin.

And yet, a second glance showed that this could not possibly be the Magog that still provoked nightmares in children--and adults--throughout the Known Worlds. Where most Magog hunched over, using all four limbs to propel themselves like fighting-mad gorillas, Rev stood upright with perfect posture and didn't so much walk as glide. Magog eyes were usually bloodshot and wild, but Rev's were blue and gentle. He had eschewed the traditional Magog garb of the skins of slain prey in favor of a cloak in the muted orange color of the Way, with the additional adornment of the Wayist symbol that he wore on a thick necklace, and which sat prominently in the middle of his chest. Being in his presence, it was impossible to be scared of him.

Mostly. Every once in a while he would growl or snarl, and suddenly you remembered just what species he was--and what they were capable of. Magog had literally swarmed throughout the Commonwealth, and later through the remains of the Commonwealth-Nietzschean civil war that left both nations destroyed. Of all the horrors that a horrible universe could throw at a person, Magog were in many ways the worst because the method to their madness was both simple and brutal: they kill you or use you as food.

"What look would that be?" Rev replied to Beka's statement with a question asked as sweetly as his grinding voice would allow him to sound.

Running her hand through her red hair in a futile attempt to untangle it--the environmentals were off again, and the flight deck was much too hot--Beka said, "The you're-being-too-hard-on-them look. The Divine may be forgiving, Rev, but the Divine doesn't have a billion creditors to keep at bay."

"True. However, while I cannot, of course, condone Harper's actions--"

"The Divine forfend," Beka said with a small smile.

"--I can appreciate the motive behind them. The very creditors whose existence you lament are precisely why Harper felt the need to attempt his grift."

Beka refused to be placated. "Yeah, and about that, did he have to try Niedermeyer--solo? I mean, c'mon, what kind of idiot does a classic two-person con by himself?"

"So are you angry that he made the attempt--or that he got caught?"

Biting back a reply, Beka instead closed her eyes, counted to ten in Vedran, and then blew out a long breath. "I'm just mad, okay? The latest round of repairs were already going to go through the entire petty-cash reserve. Now I'm probably going to need to dip into my own funds--again--which means that much less I can pay my Dad's creditors--again. I'm barely keeping up with the damn interest." She rested against the railing over the pilot's well. "I'm tired of the circle, Rev. Take on a job to help pay off the debt. Job goes wrong, or Harper pisses somebody off, or Vexpag blows up something he shouldn't have blown up, or I look at somebody cross-eyed, or someone decides he won't work with a Magog, or everything goes right but the Maru gets banged up, and we're back to square one."

"How can you be back to square one if you're going in a circle?" Rev asked.

Almost involuntarily, Beka let out a bark of laughter.

Before she could explain her explanation, the computer intoned, "Incoming transmission from Olivares Trust."

Hopping back down into the pilot's well, Beka said, "Answer him, will you, Rev?"

As she settled back into the chair, loudly shifted it forward into the operating position, thinking, I've got to get that squeak fixed, and disengaged the autopilot, Beka heard Rev say, "This is the Eureka Maru requesting permission to dock."

"That depends," said a familiar voice.

"On?" Rev prompted when the conditions were not forthcoming.

"On where you want to dock."

Beka chuckled, finally placing the voice. "Manteen, do you really think I'd come back to this dump for any reason other than to dock at Vasily's?"

"It is you, Beka," Manteen said with a chuckle. "Glad to see you've still got the Maru. I was sorry to hear about your Dad. He was a good man. How's Sid doing?"

"Wouldn't know," Beka said quickly. She hadn't heard from "Uncle" Sid since before her father died. "So you gonna let us dock at Vasily's, or what?"

"That depends."

"On?"

"You gonna finally say yes to that dinner offer I made you?"

Beka smiled. "Is the offer still for Cavanaugh's?"

Manteen snorted. "Please. If I could afford Cavanaugh's, I wouldn't be working a portmaster's job on the ass-end of the Milky Way."

"Cavanaugh's or nothing, Manteen, sorry."

"Ah, hell. Permission to dock granted anyhow. I always had a soft spot for people named Valentine. In fact, that's probably the only reason your brother's still breathing right now."

"Rafe was here?" This surprised Beka. Olivares was far too respectable a place for her older brother to be seen. A pit like Takilov was more his speed.

"About six months back. He did his usual job of making friends and influencing people."

"I'll bet." Rafe was one of the more gifted grifters around. Hell, Beka thought, he probably could pull off Niedermeyer by himself if he had to. She hadn't seen him since before Dad died, either.

"Anyhow, you're cleared for Vasily's port. You're in Bay 22."

"My lucky number. Thanks, Manteen."

"No problem. And hey, even if you won't go to dinner with me, how about a drink? Say, Girzin's at fifteen?"

"Maybe next time, Manteen. Right now, I just need to get my ship up to snuff and head out. Thanks, though, I appreciate it. Maru out."

She closed the connection.

"I was unaware that we were on a timetable at Olivares Trust," Rev said after a moment. "In fact, I was assuming--"

"I know, I know, I just--" Beka sighed. "Manteen'll want to talk about old times."

"My impression of humans has always been that they enjoy speaking of the past."

Beka maneuvered the ship toward a port that had Vasily's stylized logo painted over it. "That kinda depends on whose past."

"An excellent point. You, for example, very rarely speak of your past."

Glancing back at the Magog, she said, "Rev? You know that, if I ever need to talk to somebody about anything, you're the first person I'd go to, right?"

"I am flattered that you hold me in such high regard."

"When I'm ready to talk about this, you'll be the first to know."

Rev nodded his head in understanding. "Very well."

It wasn't that Beka didn't want to share a drink with Manteen. He wasn't a bad guy--though he was, in fact, three times Beka's age, and they both knew that his flirting was utterly harmless.

But Manteen knew Beka from when she was a teenager, when her father and Rafe and Uncle Sid were all on the Maru together. The conversation they'd just had indicated that he'd be full of questions about Dad's death, and Rafe and Sid. The fact that Ignatius Valentine's oldest child and best friend were absent from his funeral was a wound that Beka had no interest in reopening.

It was the work of only a few minutes and some maneuvers that Beka could do in her sleep--indeed, had done in her sleep on more than one occasion--to land the Maru in Bay 22 of Vasily's port.

Once they were settled down, Beka hit the intercom. "Talk to me, Harper." She could have gotten the report from Harper in person, but that would have necessitated setting foot in the engine room. That was Harper's domain, and Beka had learned it was best to leave him to it. Besides, there was only so long she could stand there breathing through her mouth.

"Well, Boss," and Beka noticed that Harper's abashed tone was all but gone, "we got us a classic case of the good, the bad, and the ugly--and by that, I don't mean me, a Nietzschean, and Rev Bem. No offense, Rev."

"None taken," Rev said indulgently. "My people were not bred for aesthetics."

"Ain't that the truth. In any case, the good is that the Slip drive is just peachy, even after pinballing here from Takilov."

Beka let out a sigh of relief. That had been the biggest risk in doing so many Slips so quickly. She hadn't worried about her own ability to focus in the Slipstream--she could have gone on for hours more without slowing down--but the Maru's battered old drive had its limits. One of these days, I really need to upgrade the thing to something built in this decade. Maybe by next decade…

"The bad is that there's a crack in the fuel tank, and it's not on a seam this time. We try welding and it'll shatter. It's gotta be replaced."

"Dammit," Beka muttered. "And the ugly?"

"The A/P valve's totally shot."

Wincing, Beka said, "Are you sure? Don't you know what those things cost?"

"Yeah, anywhere between prohibitively expensive and Oh-God-shoot-me-now. That's why when the valve first failed six months ago, I managed a jury-rig to keep us going so we wouldn't have to sell Vexpag's limbs to pay for 'em."

Beka blinked. "Harper, you can't jury-rig an A/P valve." The anti-proton valves were very particular parts that had to be aligned on the molecular level by nanobots, and had to be tailored to each individual ship. That was why they were so expensive.

"Maybe you can't, but it's nothing that a little genius couldn't figure out how to accomplish."

Smiling, Beka said, "That's my little genius."

"Unfortunately, even my godlike powers only extend so far. All I did was stave off the inevitable. Besides, we're at Vasily's right? At least we know we'll get good parts here."

"True." Six months ago, when the valve had first gone, they were in even worse financial straits and deep in the heart of the Andromeda galaxy. They would not have been able to get to Olivares Trust, and even if they could have, replacing the valve would have been beyond their means. "Good work, Harper. Draw up a list that I can give to Vasily."

"Will do, Boss."

* * *

HAUKON TAU DRIFT, 302 AFC

"The problem with a work of true genius such as this is that the people who appreciate it most are the ones who already knew what the genius was trying to convey, and the people who most need to know what is being conveyed are the ones who don't appreciate it at all."
--Hammond Markinson, review of "The Collected Sayings of Drago Museveni" in "The Commonwealth Literary Supplement," Vol. 782, #14, CY 9669
Tyr awoke to the sound of beeping.

He was in the apartment he maintained on Haukon Tau Drift. Small, functional, barely furnished, it provided him with a place to sleep whenever he came here, which was fairly often, as it was his main point of contact for mercenary work.

The transition from sleeping and fitfully dreaming of his experiences as a slave to wide awake and fully alert was nearly instantaneous. Tyr did not bolt awake and scream after an unpleasant dream--he was made of sterner stuff. Indeed, if he was affected by once again dreaming of his nightmarish experiences on Zocatl as a teenager, he showed no sign of it.

Tyr sat up from his cot and did the same thing he did every time he awakened: visually and aurally checked every aspect of the one-room dwelling to make sure nothing threatened him.

The beeping was the apartment's computer. "What is it?" he asked once he was satisfied that the apartment was secure.

"Incoming message," the mechanical voice intoned.

"Play it."

"Tyr, it's me," said the distinctive voice of Ferahr al-Akbar. "Two things--your clients're all on their way to Terra Verde. Don't worry, they can't be traced back to you or to me."

Nodding, Tyr got up from the cot and went to the sink. Part of the deal with getting the royal pair and their tiresome entourage to safety was that Tyr and his people would not be able to say precisely how they got to Terra Verde. It was an added layer of security that General Orkani had suggested, and of which Tyr approved.

A pity such a sensible mind was no doubt sacrificed to get those two idiots to safety. Tyr supposed it was possible that the general survived the attack on the palace. Whether he did or not, Tyr had no sympathy for the king and queen in whose service the worthy Orkani had no doubt sacrificed himself. If Nwari and Hamsha were so incompetent as to be overthrown by rabble, they deserved their fates. Not that he had any confidence in the efficacy of the Liberators' long-term goals of a democratic government to replace the monarchy. Power was held by the strong. To simply grant it to a collection of idiots only served to weaken that power and therefore weaken the government. Tyr confidently predicted that the new government wouldn't last a year before it descended into anarchy. If Orkani survived the coup, perhaps he would be able to seize control. Military dictatorships could be well run in the hands of the right military.

Ferahr's recorded message continued. "That Nietzschean ship you wanted to meet up with came outta Slip. Got a message from some field marshal named Alaric Augustus saying he'll get together with you at midday in my office."

Again, Tyr nodded. This was good. With Element of Air's death, the fee for the Malani's Haven endeavor was higher than expected, split as it was six ways instead of seven--and as leader, Tyr's share was the largest. In the years since freeing himself from captivity on Zocatl, he had been working toward a single goal. While Ursa Pride may not have been the most ideal of the Nietzschean clans for Tyr's purpose, they were certainly a worthwhile place to start.

Tyr spent the morning putting himself through a wide variety of workouts, all of Nietzschean design, combining the best elements of human and Than martial arts forms and Vedran meditation techniques. The exercises were many and varied, and accounted for different environments. If necessary, he could do the physical forms in an area no more than a meter squared. Sometimes he had the luxury of doing them in an open space with appropriate accoutrements--a staff, perhaps, or knives, depending on his mood. There was also a two-person form, but Tyr had not practiced it in some time. He had attempted it with each of his fellow mercenaries, but the only one who had shown any aptitude was Brexos, and he grew bored with it quickly. He occasionally sparred with Varastaya, but the cyborg had no technique, simply relying on brute strength and her enhanced agility. These abilities were sufficient to serve her in most situations, but Tyr's attempts to get her to improve them thus far had been met with disinterest.

The loss was hers. While Tyr trusted the work done by his parents to secure the best genes for their son, he had never made the mistake far too many of his fellow Nietzscheans did in thinking that he was perfect. To Tyr, the genetic engineering was the beginning, not the end, of the process. There was always room for improvement. Most of the Nietzscheans Tyr encountered had believed themselves to be the best possible specimen upon birth and saw no reason to go any further. Plato had once spoken of the ideal form, with the reality being but shadows made by firelight on a cave. Tyr knew that, while Nietzscheans were closer to that Platonic ideal than most, it was the height of stupidity to assume that they had achieved perfection.

So he pushed himself harder and harder, working to hone his mind, his body, his very self.

After three hours of physical workout, sweat glistening off his bare chest and down his forehead, Tyr then stripped, showered, instructed his nanobot shaver to trim his beard, and spent the remaining two hours before his meeting with Field Marshal Augustus reading a copy of The Artha-Shastra by Chandragupta Maurya--the ancient Indian emperor better known as Chanakya. This was a new edition that had been published in the original Sanskrit. Tyr had always preferred to read works--especially important ones like this--untranslated. Tyr was ever mindful of the Italian proverb: traduttore, traditore. "The translator is a traitor" was the appropriately imprecise translation. Nuances were lost when converting from one tongue to the other, which prompted another proverb: the devil is in the details.

Tyr of course did not believe in the devil, having assumed him to have died alongside God.

Idly, he wondered if the situation on Malani's Haven would still have deteriorated so disastrously if Nwari or Hamsha had been familiar with Chanakya's work. Probably not, he quickly concluded.

When midday arrived, he walked through the corridors of Haukon Tau, taking in every detail of his surroundings and ignoring them once they proved not to be a threat. He passed the usual collection of shops, eateries, temporary dwellings, meeting places, and other establishments that competed for the attention of both the people on and the limited space in the drift. Tyr gave them no thought beyond what they might do for him or to him--which, today at least, was nothing.

Ferahr maintained an office in a large windowless space at the center of the drift. The open area in the middle of the room was surrounded by shelves full of a variety of items--the type of items changed daily, depending on what bit of business Ferahr was conducting. Tyr neither knew nor cared about the nature of that business. All he knew was that Ferahr had proven himself reliable.

Tyr had never been foolish enough to assume that non-Nietzscheans were automatically useless any more than he assumed that all Nietzscheans were automatically superior. The universe never made things that easy. While he wouldn't go so far as to say he trusted Ferahr--Tyr trusted no one and nothing but Tyr--the fat human was probably the only person in the Known Worlds Tyr might consider calling a friend.

Upon arrival at the office, Tyr found Ferahr sitting at his desk, eating a vile concoction that had been provided by one of the local food-poisoning establishments not-very-cleverly disguised as a restaurant. Of Field Marshal Augustus, there was no sign.

"It's midday. Where is he?"

Through a mouthful of soup, Ferahr said, "'Hello, Ferahr. How're you doing? Good to see you. Oh, and hey, thanks for helpin' me out with those folks you wanted to get to Terra Verde.'"

"You were paid, were you not?"

Ferahr finally swallowed the soup. "Yeah."

Tyr smiled. "Then what possible reason do I have to thank you?"

"Right, why start now?" Shaking his head, Ferahr put the soup aside. "Anyhow, that field marshal guy said he'd be here at midday. S'not my fault he's late. And hey, you think maybe you could reschedule?"

Raising his eyebrows, Tyr asked, "Why would I wish to do that?"

Ferahr squirmed in his chair, never a pretty sight. "Well, not so much reschedule as relocate. It just seems t'me that you could have your little confab somewhere, y'know--safer."

"Do you think I won't be safe here?"

"I meant safer for me." Ferahr scratched his stubbly chin. "Look, Tyr, I'm just a regular businessman--"

"There are many adjectives I would use to describe you, Ferahr. 'Regular' is not one of them." As Tyr spoke, he heard the sound of three sets of footsteps approaching the office from down the hall. Ferahr's concerns are about to become moot.

"Fine, whatever, but I really can't afford t'get in the middle'a whatever you got goin' with your Nietzschean pal."

"I would not characterize myself as a 'pal' in these circumstances," said a rich voice from the doorway as the footsteps arrived.

Tyr turned to see a Nietzschean shorter than Tyr, but with broad shoulders and a soldier's bearing. This, he assumed, was Field Marshal Alaric Augustus. He had large, almost perfectly round hazel eyes, and a softer face than Tyr would have expected from someone of Augustus's reputation. Nothing was soft about his clothing, though. The field marshal was covered neck to toe in armor, all white, and covered in a variety of insignia, one of which Tyr recognized as the crest of the Ursa Pride. It made him a perfect target, to Tyr's mind, though perhaps it was simply a dress armor that he wore to meetings. His jet-black hair was trimmed into a bowl cut, which, combined with the white ensemble, gave him an ancient Roman look--unsurprising, given his name, though his features were about as Roman as Tyr's.

Behind him were two soldiers, also Nietzschean, dressed in similar armor, though theirs had no decoration save the Ursa Pride crest over the heart. The field marshal kept his weapon holstered, but these two had pistols out in a standby position.

"I have to admit," the field marshal continued, "that I was confused by the sender of the message. It was identified as 'Tyr Anasazi of the Kodiak Pride.' I was unaware of the existence of the Kodiak Pride."

Tyr wondered if he was being willfully obtuse, or if perhaps the field marshal's reputation was overrated. "Do you mock me, sir?"

Augustus gave a small smile. "Forgive me, I should have been more specific: I was unaware of the present existence of the Kodiak. I was under the impression that any discussion of that Pride would, of necessity, be in the past tense."

"The Kodiak Pride has not truly fallen until its last son lies dead. My own existence is testimony to the fact that that day has not yet come."

Augustus nodded. "So you survived the destruction of your Pride. That bespeaks either excellent survival skills, phenomenal luck, or treachery on your part."

Tyr leaned, arms folded, against the edge of Ferahr's desk. He did not want to sit in the guest chair, for that would put the still-standing Augustus on a physically higher plane than Tyr, but he wanted to show that he was relaxed in the field marshal's presence and not concerned--or, more accurately, not so concerned that he needed to be overt about it. Tyr noted that Ferahr was sweating even more profusely than usual and had shifted position so that Tyr was directly between him and Augustus. "I am not here to discuss the past, sir, but the future."

"Ah, but the past affects the future." Augustus walked over to one of the shelves and started inspecting one of the objects on it. "I am named for two figures from Roman history: Augustus, the first great emperor of Rome, and Alaric, the Goth general who sacked Rome. The play begins, the play ends, the play continues. I had thought the performance of the Kodiak Pride to be ended." He now looked at Tyr. "I take it you wish it to continue?"

Unfolding his arms, Tyr simply said, "Yes."

"And where does Ursa Pride fit into your story?"

"The Kodiak Pride fell when I was a boy. After my parents were killed, I was sold into slavery on Zocatl. I made my escape from a collapsed diamond mine and became free. I have spent the years since improving myself. I believe that I would make a good ally to your Pride and a good father to your children."

"After spending years as a mercenary?" Augustus spoke with a disdainful undertone.

"My record speaks for itself," Tyr said, trying to restrain his rising anger.

Augustus nodded. "Oh, it most certainly does, yes." He started to pace around the office.

Behind Tyr, Ferahr continued to shift the position of his chair, always endeavoring to keep Tyr in the line of any possible fire.

"I had heard stories about a very high-priced mercenary team led by a man named Tyr Anasazi. By the name, I took him to be a Nietzschean, and assumed him to be both a man without a Pride and a man without pride." Augustus had now worked his way around to the area next to Ferahr's desk, causing the desk's owner to practically cower.

Tyr did not move. "I am only the first of those, I assure you."

"Really? You take money from imbeciles and tramp about with kludges. These are not the actions of someone I would want functioning in my jurisdiction, much less one I would want in my Pride. The Kodiak were genetic inferiors, who--"

Tyr stood upright and faced Augustus directly. "There is nothing 'inferior' about the Kodiak, Field Marshal. We were betrayed by the Drago-Kazov, and--"

"Is that supposed to mitigate your failure? If you were so incompetent as to allow yourselves to be betrayed so completely, you deserved your fate."

That brought Tyr up short.

"You are the last remnant of a failed Pride. If you truly wished to improve the bloodlines of the Nietzschean race, you would take that knife in your boot and plunge it into your own heart. I would shoot you myself, but I have no desire to waste ammunition on one such as you. The Kodiak's play has ended, Tyr Anasazi; you were simply never informed of its close. My recommendation would be for you to take your curtain call and remove yourself from the stage."

With that, Field Marshal Alaric Augustus turned his back on Tyr and moved toward the exit of Ferahr's office.

Ferahr swallowed audibly and said, "Well, that didn't go too badly…"


To find out what happens next, you'll just have to get a copy of Destruction of Illusions. Luckily, you can get a copy of it in either hardcover or paperback from the good folks at Amazon.com.

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