The Hunt for Lucky-Six

Chapter One:

It was, as office rooms went, a dull one. No decor, no furniture save for a skeletal table and four of the most basic of chairs; one for the sole occupant, the other three arrayed on the other side of the table. Lighting came from a single overhead unit that looked five centuries out of date. The door was locked from the outside.

When it did unlock, some twenty minutes after the aforementioned occupant had been brought in, to permit three more people inside. Two of them were male, with postures and features that spoke of the hard, Spartan lifestyle typical of the Imperial military’s front-liners. The third was a woman, fair of features but with sharp, piercing eyes. She alone wore the pristine white uniform of a Navy pilot; the others went for sombre black suits.

“Good evening,” the first suit said as all three took their seats. “My name is Dmitri Vakov, Imperial Irregular Supervisor. This is-”

Before he could finish, the interviewee cut in. “Big Ivan, strategic support pilot formally of Legion’s Section Zero-Eight. Currently serving as a ‘military advisor’ to NASA Corp’s private squadrons. No official rank or entitlements within the Navy at large, nor Legion in particular; bit of an oddity for someone who’s claimed to be on their books for the past five years.”

The men were left a little surprised by this interjection, but the woman seemed quite amused. “Very good, Mr Quinn; you have done your homework.”

“I know my business rivals,” Jasan Quinn replied. He learned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on the table, meshing his fingers to give his chin somewhere to rest. “Why am I here exactly?”

“My name is Amelia, Group Captain of the Imperial Fourth Armada.”

“Ah,” Quinn replied, slowly unfolding back into his default sitting position. “The Wardens. I was wondering when you’d come after me again.”

“You are still technically under our employ, Mr Quinn; we simply chose to give you a little autonomy.”

Slowly, the mercenary looked at each face in turn, turning over in his mind how all three of them could be linked. As he did so, Amelia placed a data-slate on the desk in front of him. “What do you know of Patricia Taggart?”

Quinn’s eyes, bronze-tinted from the augments he’d had inserted years before, immediately flicked down toward the pad. “That’s… callsign ‘Lucky-Six’, one of NASA’s rising stars. Three years in the Navy, eight months in Gamma Squadron, two with Alpha, then right into a command role of NASA.”

“How do you know her?” The pilot ‘Big Ivan’ asked gruffly.

“I flew with her,” Quinn responded. “One of my first contracts with the Wardens was flying alongside her; we were ordered to destroy the defences around key jump beacons to pave the way for the Giants.”

The accountant gave his companions an uneasy glance. “Given her status within NASA, and the importance of the missions she has been entrusted with by the Emperor’s Office, we feel that Ms Taggart, and her knowledge of the Empire’s front-line elements, pose too significant a threat to be left unchecked.”

“So?” the mercenary answered flippantly. “By my reckoning this is a problem for your HR department.” He punctuated that comment with a nod toward the NASA representative.

“NASA are out of the picture,” Amelia answered. “They tried to deal with it and failed; Lucky-Six got away, and so now the Wardens are taking over. Our intel suggests she’s in Sector 1331, possibly the Mercurial zone. You have contacts within the Armada and beyond that may prove useful here; raise a squadron, find her and kill her. The Empire will foot the bill.”

“If anyone asks, what’s our mission objective?”

“Combat Reconnaissance,” was the reply. Quinn had expected it.

“Ah, that old chestnut… if we pull this off I want a hundred and twenty kays in unmarked standards, paid upon my return and when the kill is verified.”

“Deal.” The Warden Officer answered before the accountant could interject. “Pleasure doing business, Captain Quinn.”

As the trio rose to leave, Quinn rose too. “Amelia, was it? A quick word before I go? Alone?”

Despite the suspicion of her comrades, Amelia accepted. They sat back down together and Quinn leaned in close to whisper, “what is my real mission here?”

In the same secretive tones she answered, “Taggart was one of our freelancers, much as you are. She absconded with sensitive information. We would like it back. Destroy it if there is no other option, but consider recovery to be a high priority, second only to the assassination of the traitor.”

“Emperor watch over you, Miss Amelia,” Quinn said with a smile as he stood up to leave.

“As we watch over him,” she answered automatically. “Good hunting… mercenary.”


*   *   *


Stations like New Condaroga existed everywhere. They were ad-hoc conglomerations built by everyone and no-one; places that fans of a certain kind of fiction might call ‘wretched hives of scum and villainy’. This was an unfair descriptor for the most part; the occupants were law abiding amongst themselves, they just had different moral standards to most people.

Oron Gol had forgotten how much he loved places like these. The ruling elite of the Empire liked to imagine they had real power, but in practice the fate of the galaxy was decided here in the drinking dens of the Dogs of War. A few choice words, a few rounds of moonshine and the contents of an untraceable off-world bank account and the fate of half a dozen sectors could change overnight.

Gol and his squadron had dressed down for the visit. Imperial mercenaries were not that uncommon, but the flight uniforms of the Navy got people on edge. They passed into a guarded common room and found Quinn talking with a tall, robed man of Jericho descent. When Gol approached, the man gave a quiet parting word and excused himself.

“You’ve been forming quite a force,” Gol noted casually as he took the recently occupied seat. “I couldn’t help but notice we’re not a part of it.”

“The Wardens don’t want NASA involved,” Quinn replied.

Gol sneered at the excuse. “I don’t care what the Wardens say. Taggart betrayed us; we deserve to be the ones who bring her down!”

The mercenary captain turned his attention to the holo-map mounted on a wall bracket. It displayed a map of 1331 and was updating in real time. “Alright, I’ll give you the kill. It won’t be easy; you’d best be prepared for hell.”

The comment made Gol laugh, “Who do you think you’re talking to? When we fly, Hell is what happens to other people.”

The bravado made Quinn smile. “We scramble at 09:00 local. Assemble your pilots here in fifteen minutes… and prep your heaviest hitting ships.”

Nice work, looking forward to the next section :yes_yes:

Chapter Two:


All across the sector the sky was lighting up. In the fringes of 1331 Federation recon-squadrons began to send distress signals as the Ironsides mercenary company translated into the region and began a full-frontal assault. Mere minutes later, Communication relays on the far side of the sector was struck by a limpet charge and blown to pieces. Squadrons were dispatched, by which time the Phobos Company had already destroyed a second relay and had all but destroyed the defences of a third. Within an hour navigation beacons in the Outer Habitation Zone were in Empire hands, occupied by the Roughrider Independent Squadrons.

By the time NASA joined the fight the Federation was already becoming stretched thin. Their mission struck much deeper into the sector, targeting a seemingly unimportant asteroid cluster just beyond the Inner Habitation Zone. The communication tower had just enough time to get a basic distress call out before being annihilated by a storm of torpedoes launched from the ambushing NASA frigates.

In the midst of all of this, a single Dwarf interceptor dropped out of Warp in the system’s Flare Zone and set a course back toward the rim. Concealed by optic camouflage and sensor-blinders, the Imperial interceptor passed unheeded into the heart of the Federation’s cordon.

“This is Recon to Trojan, come in Trojan.”

We read you, Recon,” came the reply. “Any sign of the target?

“No sign yet,” Quinn replied. “If our intel is right we should find her somewhere close to CN-24. Take a slow approach and don’t make waves; I’ll signal when it’s time to strike.”

He set a course and began his patrol. It was a slow and tense affair; more than once he came upon a Federation squadron racing to the front and was forced to power down and pray he eluded them.

The mission gave Quinn plenty of time to reflect, and he couldn’t help but wonder if his solution was the right one. The Dreadnought was bait; he was convinced of that. Quinn had spent enough time at the helm of a capital ship to know no captain would endanger their vessel so flippantly. He was heading where he would sent a rescue ship, and he’d sent the best pilots he had chasing the false trail. Would Lucky-Six fall for it? Would her allies? By his reckoning the Armada would attempt extraction within six hours; there was precious little time to complete the mission.

He picked a heading that looked promising and powered his engines for just long enough to build up some inertia, knowing full well that the next six hours might be the longest of his life…


*   *   *


Oron Gol, aka “Longshot”, turned his head up towards the smoke-blackened droneship passing above him. The ship automatically turned his turrets to follow his field of vision, and with a twitch of his fingers he blasted the vessel into pieces. The automated combat units had proved little challenge once their controllers had been dealt with, though they continued to fight as best they could. There were also the mercenaries to consider. One such combatant appeared briefly in the corner of Gol’s vision, his ship missing one of its engines and handling erratically. He saw the cockpit eject clear moments before Vannic’s hail plasmas hit home. The Jericho-built frigate rose into view and Golf fell in beside it as they re-evaluated the battlefield.

Things were going well, for the most part. MacDonald’s modified Cerberus had proven invaluable in taking down the bulk of the drone squadrons, supported by Lawless and in her Federation prize ship. Both frigates were outfitted with drone controllers, nano-cloud projectors and sophisticated shield technologies that not only made them difficult to kill, but allowed them to repair damage on the fly. As Lawless came into view Gol could make out scars across her hull where the paint had been burned away, yet the metalwork beneath looked unblemished.

“What’s the plan, Mechanic?” he asked Lawless whilst scanning the skies for any more contacts.

Her message came through full of popping sounds and crackling interference, “massive power build-up in the engines. I think they’re going to make a run for it. Recommend we knock out the drives if we can.

I’d love to darlin, but I’m all out of nukes!” MacDonald replied.

Gol glanced at the console in front of him. His Hydra still had a pair of cruise missiles strapped to the underbelly, and Vannic was packing a third. “Three big pieces of ordnance should be enough if we can find a soft spot… or make one.”

Aye aye,” Lawless replied, and her Alligator turned nose-down cross the Dreadnought’s underbelly.

“MacDonald, hold back. We need to keep their attention elsewhere. The dorsal weapons batteries are still operational, but if we could take them offline…”

Yeah yeah, I get your plan. If I die doing this I’m coming back to haunt you!

Gol laughed at the threat. “Then don’t die!”


It took several minutes for the Hydra to reach its firing point. By then Lawless had found plenty more hostiles to play with. Eight drone-controlled interceptors in various states of destruction were floating around her, with four more still in the fight. Her shields were failing, with intermittent weapon strikes making it through to her hull. Without a moment’s hesitation, Vannic and Gol added their fire to the proceedings, smashing the interceptors apart in a four-second storm of plasma and railgun shots.

Almost incoherent due to the static, Lawless did her best to guide Gol in. He saw the target clear enough; a small rent where the engine and main hull met. He activated the ship’s main gun and fired a charged bolt at the mark as a warm-up before firing his missiles. Vannic, seeing the launch, did the same.

The engine housing buckled under the impact. The armoured cowling, heated to the point of structural failure by the disintegrator beam, offered the cruise missiles virtually no resistance. Between them they blew a hole in the engine block twelve metres long and four wide; more than enough to admit the last projectile.

A great tongue of flame ejected from the breech point. Shredded drive components ejected backwards out of the exhaust units, a cloud of shrapnel that consumed and annihilated two more drones as they flew to engage the NASA kill-team. Secondary and tertiary detonations followed, and one by one the lights along the aft section of the Dreadnought went out.

“I think we got it!” Gol laughed. The static caused by the powering engines died away, and he could now clearly hear the input of his squad. MacDonald was damaged and falling back, but seemed quite calm about his situation. Lawless, a little more shaken, assured Gol that the nanodrone system would keep her operational. Vannic was quick to boast how his shields had yet to fall.

But Gol was more interested in the unsung ‘fifth’ member of the team; the Dvergr nestled at the edge of the asteroid cloud relaying information about the conflict at large. One update in particular caught his ear; the Federation had sent reinforcements, and they were coming their way. Six capital ships and their attending squadrons were deploying into 1331 to wrestle it back out of Empire hands, with Dynamis attack squadrons leading the charge.

“Knuckle down folks,” Gol growled. “We’re not finished yet…”


*   *   *


Dynamis was four hours away. That much was a certainty now. Thankfully, so was the location of Lucky-Six.

Quinn target-locked her from extreme range and fired off the spy drone. The simple little machine would allow for precision targeting from anywhere up to fifty thousand kilometres away, but more importantly it would tell Trojan exactly where to go. By happy chance, he was already in the area.

A pair of Swifts were all that remained of Lucky-Six’s escort. Any other ships that had been tasked with guarding her had been called to the fighting elsewhere. They flew the dull matt-green of the mass-market models, suggesting private military or civil defence pilots. Not corporate though; Federation corps liked to fly their own colours.

Trojan lumbered into their engagement range, apparently oblivious to their presence. They hailed the cargo ship and were left unanswered. Again they hailed, now closing to weapons range, and Trojan responded by opening its keel hatches to reveal the cargo within. Three Jericho Machetes dropped out of the transport, their hulls producing bolts of indigo lightning that earthed into the mothership as their shields ignited. As one the warships turned to meet the Swifts who realised, far too late, that they were outclassed. They died quickly, consumed in a barrage of ordnance that seemed overkill from Quinn’s point of view.


Moving in a V-shaped formation, the Jericho pilots closed on Lucky-Six. Her Phobos Aura, still proudly displaying the Wardens heraldry, met them head on.

Imperial Traitor, you will surrender to the warships of the Raid or you will be destroyed.” The threat was delivered in a strange tone, like a human voice imperfectly synthesised by a machine.

Lucky-Six simply laughed at them. “Then you shall be Enlightened.” the Jericho pilot replied, and that was the end of any hope of civility.


Quinn had expected Taggart to turn and run, or at the very least seek cover. Instead she flew on in defiance of her enemies, her shields flashing blue and white as the lead ship opened fire with its railguns. His wingmen, armed with shorter ranged guns, had to close the gap to add their firepower, but that in turn meant Lucky-Six was able to fire.

And fire she did. A cluster of guided missiles detached from her hull and shrieked away toward the lead ship, and the Jericho pilot activated his countermeasures. The Machete became enveloped in a glowing aura of green light and four of the missiles impacted without causing any apparent harm. The fifth struck as the barrier collapsed, burning out forward shields and forcing additional defences to be re-routed. By then, Lucky-Six had opened fire with her laser cannons, using experimental harmonic lenses to maximise electromagnetic disruption.

Her prey began to buckle. The lead Machete turned to try and run, but it was far too late for that. Lucky-Six’s lasers turned from dull red to vibrant orange as she activated the Overcharge, and within seconds the Jericho ship was punctured by four beams of high-energy death. The beams clawed through her like the talons of a hawk, raking down through the tail section and leaving her a ragged, tattered hulk.

Missiles flew at her, but Lucky-Six evaded, diving keelward and popping IR flares. Her shields began to fail her but, to the surprise and shock of her attackers, her ship was immediately enveloped in the same energy field that her victim had employed.

“That’s not possible!” Quinn gasped. He knew the Wardens had successfully reverse-engineered Jericho Diffusion Shields, but he’d never heard of one being successfully integrated into a Gunship.

The remaining Machetes tried to attack from two directions at once. They attacked using high-explosive shells intended to overwhelm and burn out shields, and employed electronic-warfare modules built to sap a ship of its power. Lucky-Six came on regardless; her Diffusion Shield rendering her impervious to harm, and her overclocked laser cannons spelling death for all who opposed her.

She unleashed a rocket swarm that threatened to overwhelm her prey, and the Machete responded by activating a cloaking device. The Ex-NASA pilot adjusted her aim for where she believed the ship to be, and was rewarded with a fiery explosion and the Machete returning to visible status. Its starboard wing was missing, burned off by her overcharged lasers. Fuel and oxygen leaked from the wounded fighter and was ignited by the beams, shrouding the vessel in a burning cloud as it entered a death roll.

The Diffusion Shield finally petered out, but now it was a one-on-one fight, and all present knew it was a fight that heavily favoured the Phobos Aura.

By that point Quinn had quit the field, running clear of the brawl to try and find an ally in communication range. His calls were eventually answered by Gol, who gave him a curt appraisal of the situation.

“There’s bigger problems here Gol!” Quinn barked over the summary of the Dreadnought skirmish. “I’ve found Lucky-Six, but she’s tearing my squadron apart! I need fire support if I’m going to bring her down!”

Understood,” Gol replied. “We’ve got your vector and are on our way. Stay alive until then.

“Easier said than done,” Quinn said. He’d just seen a sensor diamond wink out on his HUD. The last of the Jericho had been destroyed – it was all down to him.

Chapter Three:


There was a heart-stopping moment where Quinn wasn’t sure if he’d survived the clash or not. A head on charge was not advised against any opponent, much less one flying an experimental prototype with capabilities far in excess of any ship in its weight class. He feathered the navigational thrusters and came about once more, his plasma cannons flashing against the shields of Lucky-Six as her slower, less agile ship moved to bring guns to bear.

It was a tricky fight for both of them. For all her technological supremacy, Taggart was hindered by the design of her ship; a vessel built to engage in open brawls, not the circle dance favoured by smaller, lighter ships. Her firepower advantage meant nothing if she couldn’t bring the turrets to bear.

Quinn, by contrast, was faced with the problem of experience. He liked to call himself “a practitioner of asymmetric warfare,” which some took to mean he was a coward. He didn’t believe in a fair fight; why risk men and machinery in a head-on attack when a knife in the back worked just as well?

Here there was little room for clandestine activities. They’d had their chance and backfired. Help might be on the way, but Taggart could count on the same. In that moment, as the Dwarf and Phobos circled round a shared barycentre, all that mattered was which pilot could outgun the other.


A strobing flash of laser fire gave Quinn an unmistakable indication of who had the edge. He felt the Dwarf shudder as the port shield emitter was burned away and he risked a fly-over once more. A pair of rockets thudded into Taggart’s shields, whilst her own return fire went wide of the mark. Rotating quickly, Quinn pounded the Phobos’ starboard flank and was rewarded with sparks as plasma hit hull. Such impacts became intermittent as Lucky-Six’s shields began to spark back into life. Her own return fire scored across Quinn’s shields until they found the open, unshielded left wing and blistered the upper panelling. He turned to shield his damaged flank but was unable to prevent another burst of fire hitting home and burning off the port turret.

The fight was over now and they both knew it. Quinn fired up the afterburner and ran, knowing with grim certainty that Lucky-Six was on his tail…


*   *   *


The Dwarf was struggling to put distance between itself and her. Taggart could tell by the way it moved that there had been serious damage caused to the manoeuvring thrusters, and the shield emitters had all but burned out. There was still a chance the ship was leading her into another trap; the Warden had been clever enough to smuggle in a fighter kill-team after all. Trap or no, she couldn’t let him go. Given time to regroup he could still be a real threat.

The Overdrive was almost recharged. Her fingers caressed the firing triggers as the Dwarf staggered into her cross-hairs. The targeting computer offered her suggestions on where to aim but she did not need them; she’d flown so many sorties she could predict a target’s motion by instinct. She exhaled slowly and applied a touch of pressure to the trigger, and the world ahead of her was illuminated by four pulsing beams of orange light.

She heard the opening chords of a proximity alarm and pulled up hard. Her Phobos rolled to keep the guns to bear as her shields took the full-force impact of a proximity mine. She was clear of the field in seconds, but her target was gone. Her first instinct was to assume the ship had warp-jumped out of the fight, but she couldn’t ignore the possibility it was still there, concealed by a cloaking device.

Five seconds ticked by, and she had her answer. Taggart saw the Dwarf reappear to starboard. Its canopy was wide open and the pilot was drifting clear. He hadn’t ejected; he was far too close to the ship for that.

An energy spike from the ship told her his plan. She banked hard as the Dwarf’s microwarp fired up under autopilot and hurled it forwards. There was no time to evade; there was a sudden impact, the searing pain of dislocation as both shoulders were popped out of their sockets, and the sharp fire of tearing flesh. It lasted barely a second, and then there was nothing at all.


From the other end of the Sector came the sound of breaking glass. It drew closer, growing louder and more clear, and it brought with it ample amounts of pain.

Taggart’s eyes creaked open, but only one gave her any vision. Someone was punching holes in the canopy with a breeching gun. He made a hole big enough to reach in and unlock the canopy. Normally this couldn’t be done in flight, but the ramming Dwarf had apparently disabled her fail-safes.

“Still alive eh? I shouldn’t be surpised…” the figure leaned in and aimed the breeching gun at her head. It was a weapon intended to break armoured plates; the mess it would make of her didn’t bear thinking about.

“I’ve been told you took some classified materials with you when you ran,” the man continued. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me where they are?”

Taggart saw no point in lying now. She was aware of the intense pain surging through her body, but it was strangely distant, as though the pain was happening to someone else and she was feeling ghost-pains in sympathy. “Brest pocket… and right thigh…”

As the intruder helped himself to the data chips and printouts she couldn’t help but throw a barbed comment at him. “They’ll come for you too you know.”

“They going to be your last words? I’d have picked something better.” The weapon was back at her temple. She wasn’t afraid of dying; she was dead and they both knew it. “…we’re just pawns to them,” she said. “I didn’t want that. If this is just a game to them then I’ll not be a pawn; it’s Queen or nothing.”

She inched her head around to meet her killer’s gaze. There was no sympathy or remorse in his eyes, just a cold determination of a man who had a job to do and would see it done. She forced a pained smile to form upon her lips. “…good game.”


*   *   *


He set the body of Lucky-Six adrift in space and set about trying to find something on the control console that still worked. After several minutes the ghost of a HUD came up, but what it showed made uncomfortable viewing. The Armada had arrived; a taskforce of ships of varying classes were closing on his position, and there was no hope of fighting back in the captured Phobos.

The HUD died and was reborn, fading in an out like a dying man’s heartbeat. This time the scene was different; four more ships had appeared, displayed as angry red squares.

He cranked up his personal communicator as high as it would go and frantically tuned it to the NASA channel. “Gol? Gol, if you can hear me please answer!”

I got you,” Gol replied. “No visual though, just a swarm of Feds.

“I’m on Taggart’s ship! I’ll explain how later, just clear those guys out and come get me!”

Not a problem!” Gol answered him.


The four Frigates came into the fight like the horsemen of the end times. Gol’s Hydra unleashed blast after blast of laser fire from its centreline disintegrator, turning every ship it struck into a charred skeleton of twisted metal. Lawless’ Alligator sported a hundred wounds from the previous engagement, leaving its hull mottled and blotchy as though infected. Her weapons hurled blue-white globules of plasma into the Federation ships, overwhelming their shields and liquefying their hulls in one by one. Vannic stormed straight into the enemy pack and activated his Pulsar, washing a dozen ships with an intense burst of radiation that left them emaciated and barely able to fight. They died one by one to MacDonald’s attack drones, whilst his main guns hurled heavy-calibre railgun slugs into the hulls of Federation frigates.

The Armada scattered before them and the battlefield was theirs. MacDonald rigged the crippled fighter for towing whilst Lawless set up a Warp Gate. Quinn was brought about Gol’s ship to provide them launch co-ordinates.

“You’re certain there’s a ship here?” Gol asked.

Quinn nodded firmly. “The Tortuga will meet us there and take us well clear of the system. Don’t worry, she’s more than able to outrun a Dreadnought; she’s had to do it more than once.”

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence,” Gol muttered.

MacDonald was first through the gate, with Gol and Vannic hot on his heels. Lawless was last, waiting just long enough to drop deadfall ordnance behind them and destroy the gate after its use. The Federation’s reinforcements arrived just in time to see the flash of her departure and the ruddy fireball of the Warp Gate’s destruction. All that was left for them was empty space, and the unnoticed corpse of the defector they’d come to rescue.


New Condaroga was swarming with starships. Imperial fleet craft clogged the flight paths into and out of the station, and every docking hangar was filled with ships; Army, Legion and mercenary alike. The repair teams were working overtime to bring the ships back to flight status, and despite the setbacks the entire station was alive with talk of a second offensive to be launched any day.


Jasan Quinn stood in an observation bay and watched as the NASA frigates lumbered into the maintenance pens that had been vacated just two minutes before. Their approach drew a large crowd of engineers and machine operators, for the repair of their high-end frigates was a labour intensive task.

As the last of the frigates touched down he was struck by a sudden, unexpected draft as the doors slid open. He clutched the collar of his Imperial parade uniform and pulled it tight to his neck, fastening it with golden lapel cuffs cast in the shape of the Warden Eagle.

“Amelia, wasn’t it?” he asked the female officer, similarly attired, who walked in to join him.

“Quinn,” she replied with a curt nod. “How considerate of you to wear a formal uniform for this meeting.”

The comment made Quinn smile, but her follow-up quickly wiped it off his face. “Your mission is at best a failure, and at worst an embarrassment to the entire Order. Your mission was to scout Sector 1331, report the enemy’s strength and disposition, and report back. Instead, you took it upon yourself to organise and launch a full-scale invasion, one that was ultimately repelled. Now, the Federation have fortified the system and the Legion will suffer heavy losses breaking that hold, if the attack can go ahead at all.”

Quinn kept his expression carefully blank. “My apologies, I clearly misunderstood my orders.”

Amelia was silent for a long time. Her eyes darted around the room in search of anything untoward. After a while she seemed satisfied and said quietly, “As to the other matter, I am glad that you were able to recover Lucky-Six’s craft. Its loss was a great blow to our R&D project. Were you able to recover anything else?”

Without a word Quinn drew a storage key from his pocket and tossed it to her. A silver tag, numbered A-26, hung from a thin loop of wire attached to the key.

“I believe our business is concluded,” the female Warden said with the beginnings of a smile. “You are officially removed from your theatre command. Despite our requests that you not involve the NASA Corporation, their actions in the raid are enough to convince us, for now, that Lucky-Six acted alone. We have decided to place Flight-Lieutenant Gol in charge of the private military operations in the Sector.”

“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled,” Quinn answered, turning back to watch the frigate repairs. “Do me a favour, would you? Don’t call me again for a while.”

“We won’t,” she promised. “Got any plans yet?”

Quinn shrugged. “A few. The Techs are worried about the encroaching Federation forces in one of their Sectors. There’s good work for mercenaries out there, especially ones willing to play both sides. With luck, I’ll be able to replace that lost interceptor in a few weeks.”

“Just don’t forget where your true loyalties lie,” Amelia warned.

“My loyalty to the Empire is beyond question,” Quinn replied firmly.

“Ms Taggart often said the same thing. May the Emperor watch over you, Quinn.”

He waited until her footsteps had faded away, keeping his eyes fixed on the activity of the hangar. Once alone his hand drifted into his pocket and closed around the Warden-issue dog tags hidden within. “As we watch over him,” he whispered.