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The first chapter of Fugitive Rising, complete for you to read to see if you’ll like the Wild Core Chronicle. If you like this, feel free to share it with your friends!


CHAPTER ONE

The moment they walked into the small, windowless room, the man sitting on the lone bed put his datapad aside, demurely crossed one leg over the other, and arranged his hands carefully in his lap. It was quite the image, a large red man on a small bed. He looked for all the world like he was about to share a polite drink with his visitors in spite of the silver shackle secured around his ankle.

“When you said Yllsian,” Senior Aysr Marus Kerth glanced toward his companion, the tight line of his lips mirroring the sharp furrow of his dark brow, “I thought you meant a Yllsian National, not… “

A vague gesture of the Senior Aysr’s hand was enough to get the portly Seneschal Hextus to pat his hairpiece nervously and glance about the small cell as he wrung his hands together. His eyes kept darting back toward the figure sitting on the bed nervously, as if the man would suddenly leap from it and attack him.

“I-I mean… I thought it was apparent when I said ‘Yllsian.’” The Seneschal cleared his throat and clutched his datapad more tightly to his chest. “The man in question is clearly… well…”

Aysr Kerth noticed sweat roll down the Seneschal’s neck as the man on the bed shifted his weight and blinked at them impassively. It might have looked innocuous if the man’s eyes weren’t bright yellow and rimmed in eternal black, making even the most innocent of glances look like a threat. A curse, he supposed, of those unfortunate enough to be born of true Yllsian descent.

“Well… I thought it was obvious that he was a lizardman.” The Seneschal neverously glanced from side to side, the keys jangling on his belt drawing the attention of the prisoner’s bright eyes. “Not to disparage him, of course! The Warden assures me that he’s very polite! I was told that they initially had trouble with his accent, but he only asks for his datapads and a bit of conversation each day. He’s apparently fairly low maintenance. It’s remarkable, considering that he’s been here for two standard solar cycles.”

“He’s been here since the end of the war?” Asyr Kerth asked as he crossed his arms over his chest and leveled his gaze at the Seneschal, watching him wither and twist away like a writhing barrel of eels.

“Yes. He simply… surrendered. Before Autarch Octavian passed, it was thought that he may have information regarding secret plans, but he’s never revealed anything significant…” Seneschal Hextus cleared his throat and quickly tapped on his datapad, green text and colored diagrams swimming across the black screen. “I suppose we simply didn’t have anywhere to go with him, so we’ve been keeping him here. I have… ah… information on him if you would like to look…”

The Seneschal held out the datapad hesitantly, swallowing thickly as Kerth took the smooth device in his hands. He paid the sanctioned official no mind, trailing his finger across the screen, quickly absorbing the information there. To be honest, there wasn’t much more than a few pictures and a general description of the prisoner and the circumstances under which he had surrendered.

“Not even a name, Seneschal?” Asyr Kerth arched his eyebrows high as he handed the datapad back, his attention focused on the prisoner, who stared back at him with the most curious expression on his face.

Recognition, perhaps? Though if it was recognition, Asyr Kerth wasn’t certain what seemed familiar to the man on the bed, who offered him a polite smile before turning his attention toward the Seneschal. It reminded the Senior Asyr to return his attention to his host as well, only to find the man opening and closing his mouth, still fumbling for an explanation.

“We simply never…When he first arrived, the late Autarch Octavian was still in control. I’m afraid we were never able to extract his name from him.” The Seneschal laughed nervously. “He… he appears to be rather strong willed.”

Asyr Kerth didn’t respond and instead crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at the Seneschal, who still struggled with his datapad, seemingly searching for anything else he could bring up on their prisoner. Kerth was concerned about what had fallen into his lap; a pureblooded Yllsian prisoner without a proper name who had been tortured under the previous regime was a catastrophe just waiting to happen.

For all he knew, the man could be one of their Princes and the Autocracy had endangered the Galaxy’s fragile peace by torturing one of the Union’s prized leaders.

And to think, he’d come here to assist with the reconstruction.

“Pardon me, gentlemen.” The voice had its intended effect, drawing the attention of the two men in the room to the small bed, where the prisoner still sat. “If I may have your attention, Seneschal?”

The voice seemed to pulse and swell, and Kerth recognized immediately what was happening even as he was powerless to interfere and prevent it. The words weaved around the room in lazy trails of power that broke against the Asyr’s skin and made the eyes of Seneschal turn blank and glassy as he stared at the man on the bed, who smiled politely back at him.

“Thank you,” said the prisoner in a mellifluous voice, glancing toward Kerth out of the corner of his eye. “I appreciate your cooperation. If you would, please hand your keys over to the kind Asyr here.”

Unable to disobey, the Seneschal turned toward Kerth and pressed the keys firmly into his hand. It was unsettling to watch the man move while under the gaes, his eyes unfocused as if he walked through a fog, his breathing strangely deep and steady as though he slept. He returned to attention, standing and staring at the prisoner, who seemed unbothered by the display.

“Thank you, Seneschal. Now, as for your other instructions…” The prisoner leaned forward, hands on both of his knees, his intense eyes growing harder as he stared the Seneschal down. “I want you to hand over that datapad of yours to me, and then go write a report on how you’re transferring my custody to the Order of the Garnet Star in order to avoid a resurgence of the war. We both know how dangerous keeping a pureblooded Ryll is, sir, and it would be wise not to be caught violating the terms of your treaty with the Union.”

“You are dismissed. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, Seneschal.” The man waved his hand, and the Seneschal seemed to surge forward, moving with a speed that Kerth didn’t think possible. He had been so easily brought to bear, so easily dominated by the will of the Yllsian now holding the datapad, that it seemed almost impossible to comprehend.

Asyr Kerth was left alone with the prisoner, who was staring after the Seneschal with a strange and unreadable expression on his face. The energy from before shifted between them, the steady pulse and flow retreating toward the form on the bed, where it remained, burning more brightly than Kerth could reasonably believe given how unassuming the man had seemed only moments before.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” said the man in a tone that suggested more in the way of ceremonial politeness than actual remorse. “Your arrival here was an opportunity, however, and I have never been a man to waste the opportunities given me.”

“What you just did was highly illegal.” Asyr Kerth brought his hand to the weapon sheathed neatly at his waist, more for comfort than out of aggression; something about this man set him on edge, something more than the Spark burning brightly within him.

“What I did is illegal in Imperial Space. This is the Jaycinith Autocracy, where there are no such restrictions in place for those born with the ability to assert their will.” the prisoner said with all the confidence of a practiced politician, looking toward the datapad as he spoke, avoiding eye contact. “Normally, I would not encourage such things, but in this case… Well.”

Kerth stood speechless near the doorway, attempting to puzzle out just what this man’s intentions were. He’d had himself transferred into the custody of the Order, so perhaps he intended to fight Kerth for his freedom. But if that was his intent, wouldn’t he have simply had the Seneschal give him the keys instead of entrusting the keys to a different jailer?

“What are you playing at, Yllsian?” Kerth demanded, his grip on the hilt of his blade tightening.

“Ryll,” said the prisoner brusquely, a sigh pushing its way past the man’s lips. “We are called Ryll, and this isn’t a game. There is no ball, and I am not playing, nor do I see any spectators. As I said before, I saw an opportunity for escape and I took it.”

It was the first time he’d been anything other than perfectly polite.

“So your plan is to escape this place? What then?” Kerth forced himself to let go of the hilt of his blade, recalling that this man was unarmed even if his power made the Asyr nervous. “Will you return to the Union?”

“No. Did I not tell the Seneschal to release me into your custody?” The prisoner looked up from the datapad and stared at Kerth as if he had lost his mind. “What would have been the point of all of that nonsense if I had simply wanted to return to the Union?”

Kerth opened his mouth and then snapped it shut, crossing his arms over his chest and leveling a glare at the man, who continued speaking. “My intention is to escape the Union. It was why I surrendered without question to the Jaycinthian government, despite the fact that I was certain they would torture me for information. Would I have subjected myself to that if my intentions were to flee back at the first opportunity?”

Kerth couldn’t think of a proper answer when everything he knew about the people of the Yllsian Union, especially the native people of Yllsia, indicated that they were vulgar and violent. He couldn’t reconcile his image of the Yllsian people with this man, who was fairly mild-mannered and well spoken, for all intents and purposes, if a bit bitter.

“No reasonable person would hand over the keys to me if they intended to take them from me by force,” Kerth reasoned, watching as the barest trace of a smile lit up the man’s face. “Though I still fail to understand why you’d want to be handed over to me when you were probably nobility where you came from.”

“Because, Sir Asyr, some things are more important than power.”

It was surprising how emphatic he looked, the way his dark brows knit together over his yellow eyes to form an intense frown. Kerth read no insincerity in his expression, felt no subtle manipulation of power from the energy that burned white hot within the man’s center, a Spark as bright as any he’d ever seen in his many years as a member of the Order. As much as he was aware, this man meant what he said, and it was for a deeply personal reason.

What that reason was, Kerth couldn’t be certain, but something burned in those eyes that defied his entire understanding of the prisoner’s people.

“If I’m going to take you into the custody of my Order,” Kerth said, kneeling before the man to press the head of the key against the electrolock on the man’s anklet, “I’m going to need to call you something other than ‘Prisoner.’”

Shock registered on the man’s face for only an instant before his features were overtaken by a thoughtful expression. He didn’t even seem to hear the anklet hiss its release and fall with a soft clank onto the floor. Kerth backed away, watching the man reach down and absently rub at the flesh of his heel before speaking, staring at the Senior Asyr unwaveringly.

“You may call me Virsune.”

Though Kerth had no doubts that it wasn’t his true name, his power betraying his history as a Union elite, he figured that it would do for now. Extending his hand to the man in greeting, he offered his new companion a polite smile.

“I’m Senior Asyr Kerth.”

Virsune reached out and took his hand, looking more determined than resigned, his yellow eyes looking past Kerth into the hallway. Honestly, the Asyr couldn’t blame him.

Two years was a long time to wait for freedom.

The last spaceport Virsune had stepped foot in had been a bustling military port filled with officials dressed to the nines in telltale white and teal. It was so odd to see the patchwork of colors that the civilians of the Jaycinith Autocracy wore as they bustled about their business in no apparent order.

Part of him, the part that was used to the way things had been done in the Union, longed for the assembly line-like precision of his home sector. Another part of him was simply exceedingly grateful to see that there were still parts of the galaxy where freedom of expression was treasured and encouraged. More than anything, however, he was surprised that the Jaycinith people seemed so very lively so soon after a war.

How many of these people, he wondered, were refugees seeking to flee to Imperial Space? How many of them were people displaced by the fighting, the galaxy’s orphans even after two standard solar cycles?

He could hazard a guess, at least, from people watching. It wasn’t difficult to spot those who looked dogged and haggard, though he realized quickly he likely didn’t look much better. He was still dressed as a prisoner, his hair a tangled mess of black and grey, his face covered in uneven stubble that did little to hide his species from the eyes of every person that they passed. He didn’t need to wonder why they were being stared at on their way to the docking bay. No.

Virsune knew.

“I probably should have thought this through, before bringing you to a public spaceport.” Asyr Kerth likely didn’t notice, but the hand that gripped Virsune’s arm tightened enough that it might have bruised someone with thinner skin. “I feel like I’m leading a Beezle through a pack of Yllsian Wolf Lizards.”

“I suppose that is an apt comparison,” Virsune commented absently, watching as a man pulled his daughter closer to him when they passed. “Though I feel more like the Wolf Lizard than I perhaps should.”

The girl looked terrified of him, but he tried not to think about it. She couldn’t be much older than ten, he supposed, but she had been born during war time so it would shape her entire life. He was the monster of her nightmares, a demon painted by propaganda, but it still hurt to see that expression on her face.

He pushed the thought away, refusing to succumb to the melancholy such thinking would eventually lead him to.

“Your people aren’t known for their gentle dispositions, to be perfectly fair,” Asyr Kerth pointed out rather unnecessarily. “But, you surrendered more or less peacefully and I intend to get you to the spacecraft in one piece.”

“I suppose that is preferable to being in multiple pieces.” Virsune disregarded the withering look the other man gave him, keeping his eyes fixed on the doors to the docking bays. “Or in a box, as it were.”

“Right,” the Asyr muttered caustically as he tugged Virsune to one side to avoid an oncoming group of Jaycinthian officials, dressed in brown and red. “Because you’ve been to war. You’ve seen soldiers carried away in boxes and had to tell their families that they’ve passed on.”

“I have,” Virsune said automatically, a sharp frown tugging at his features, manifesting his disappointment in himself more than his guardian. “For longer than you perhaps realize.”

Asyr Kerth gave him a very odd look but did not respond, opting instead to lead him sharply toward the left. Virsune followed wordlessly, watching Kerth instead of his surroundings, considering the other man.

It wasn’t the first time he’d encountered a member of the Order of the Garnet Star, though he had to admit that he had never been quite so close before. They were called the Dogs of the Empire among the Union’s elite, and they often criticized the order of powerful Spark Bearers for swearing themselves in service to the Zyloni ideals of “justice” and “equality”. Where he came from, the elite believed that bending the Galaxy to their will was their birthright, though that had not always been the case.

Magus Sorrus Harlle, the founder of the Union, had once said that being Gifted meant that one had a responsibility to the people born without. It meant protecting and guiding them, not ruling over them, though he supposed most people only paid homage to the Magus’ words by reciting them nowadays.

He found it difficult to believe that the Order of the Garnet Star really practiced what they preached in terms of responsibly using their Gifts for the benefit of the galaxy. To Virsune, it seemed that they served at the behest of the Empire, just as the Union believed. They were little more than a puppet organization filled with powerful Spark Bearers who believed in an illusion of equality while being forced into servitude by the very people they claimed to protect.

It was even more difficult to believe that he had so easily masked his own ability from someone trained to use their Spark. Masking himself to the untrained “wizards” among the Jaycinthians had been child’s play, something he could have done while still attending classes at the academy, but an Asyr of the Garnet Star… Either he seriously underestimated his own power, or he overestimated theirs.

It was far more likely to be the latter rather than the former; after all, he was used to life’s disappointments.

“Yllsian Princes dictate orders. They don’t follow them,” the Asyr grumbled so quietly that Virsune wasn’t certain that he was intended to hear.

“You really shouldn’t talk about things that you don’t understand,” Virsune said in response, even if he wasn’t meant to. “It makes you look incredibly foolish.”

He could feel Kerth’s irritation at his response, palpable as the man dragged him to the left and through a set of large doors. He’d never set foot on Jaycicar before his surrender, so he couldn’t say for certain that it was or wasn’t unusual for the Garnets to have a presence here, though he knew the Imperial presence would be strong in thanks to the reconstruction effort.

At the very least, the Garnets were aiding the Imperial agents; or rather, it seemed likely that they were.

“I think you’ll find that we have a fairly clear view of what your people are like,” he paused and then seemed to think. “You may be able to tell other people what to do where you come from, Yllsian, but you can’t just say whatever you want here. No free sentient has to be your captive audience.” Asyr Kerth said as they began their ascent up a long, wide slope. “There are rules and consequences. You may not be in Imperial Space, but this place is under our protection.”

Virsune nearly said something in response, but kept himself in check, tapping the flesh of his hands against the front of his thigh to avoid dwelling on the conversation. His eyes roamed the area, and he felt a sense of relief wash over him now that they were beyond the oppressive press of bodies and the overwhelming cacophony of spaceport noise.

His shoulders released tension he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding

“You surrendered to me, which means you’ll listen to me.” The Asyr prattled on, even though Virsune’s attention was drawn to the architecture of the building and the sound of their footsteps echoing as they continued their slow ascent. “I’m the one in charge, and you have to understand that even though I’m taking you to our leadership, there’s no guarantee they’ll even speak to you or allow you respite, or whatever it is you want.”

“I think that your leaders will speak to me,” Virsune replied, glancing at the man from the corner of his eye. “I am, after all, rather unusual. Typically that draws people’s attention.”

“You mind controlled a man into letting you leave, mostly likely because you’re a shady opportunist who is lying about his name and identity in order to hitch a free ride with the Garnets.” The man spoke with the assurance of someone who was used to being right and in charge, a tone of voice he was familiar with. “You may not be trying to flee back to the Union, but I have no faith that you won’t take off at the first opportunity, which is why you’re wearing the restraints.”

“You are incredibly judgemental and rely almost entirely on presuppositions about my character based on my species,” Virsune replied, figuring that he might as well respond with blanket statements of his own while they were busy making generalizations. “You think that the entirety of the Ryll species is comprised of villainous ‘lizardmen’ and that I’m a despot simply because you believe the presence of the Spark means that I must be of the ruling class.”

Virsune was more pleased than he should have been when the man’s face turned sheepish, though it did not remain so for long. He quickly composed himself as he half dragged Virsune up the last few meters of slope. “We fought alongside your people for years. People like you, people with the Spark, were almost always rulers, and they almost always gave the marching orders.”

“And did it ever occur to you that, as a member of the Order of the Garnet Star, you were only interacting with our leaders out of our respect for your rank?”

That statement seemed to stop Kerth from speaking long enough for them to finally reach the top of the corridor, where a large Transport Class ship was waiting for them. Virsune could tell that the ship had been constructed in the Nyx’allan Republic by the four engines, two each on the port and starboard sides of the ship, though its paint job certainly differentiated it from any civilian or public transport ship he’d ever seen. It was dark red, with a pale gold eight sided star painted upon its side, marking it clearly as a ship in service of the Garnet Star.

Virsune took in the ship and the several dozen crew members who mired about the docking bay, transporting boxes to the cargo hold and shouting preparation instructions at one another. All of the crew members were dressed in the formal clothing of the Order, their red coats swirling about their ankles in a way that was momentarily mesmerizing. It reminded him of preparation for expeditions to worlds long abandoned, of the hustle and bustle to prepare the exploration freighters for their journeys into territory less commonly charted by cartographers.

His contemplation was shattered the moment Kerth tugged on his arm and pulled him forward, leading him through the busy port toward the gangplank. Virsune stumbled slightly but caught his balance, trying to keep up with his keeper, who was several inches shorter than he was but was walking with deliberate, long strides that made him difficult to follow.

“I was supposed to be here for another two standard weeks,” Kerth said, voice as brusque as his pace.

“Do you want me to apologize?”

Virsune was amazed by the man’s hostility toward him, though perhaps he shouldn’t be.

The Garnet Stars were little more than an extension of the Empire, which would explain why Jaycicar had been keeping his existence a secret from them. If they had known, it would violate the terms of the treaty, so it was possible the Asyr had simply stumbled upon his existence by happenstance. If that was the case, the state of intergalactic relations had deteriorated significantly since he had last been free.

Still, in his memory it wasn’t quite this bad. How much had changed in two years? How had intergalactic politics shifted while he was stuffed in a cell on a glorified backwater awaiting death or escape?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” the Asyr said as he mounted the gangplank and looked back over his shoulder. “There’s no precedent for how to deal with a man who places himself in your custody using his morally questionable powers. You weren’t supposed to be here.”

“In order to no longer be here, I am willing to take that risk.” He shuddered just thinking about it, contemplating the absolute isolation of the cell.  His skin crawled with the memory of a million microsounds that set him on edge, his fingers tapping nervously against his thigh. “An uncertain future is better than the monotony of a life with little conversation or contact.”

There was a hiss as the airlock on the door opened, leaving Virsune blinking and momentarily disoriented in the bright light of the ship’s interior. He felt himself stumble, reaching out to catch his hands against the wall as he gracelessly maneuvered his way into the transporter.

It took him a moment to adjust and straighten himself, caught up in how the lights above him hummed softly, and how he could feel the vibration of the entire ship through the wall. It felt like coming home. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed space travel, how he’d always felt more at ease traveling to foreign worlds than he ever had on Yllsia.

“I’ll repeat what I said before,” Kerth said, watching Virsune as he straightened with a stare that bordered on unnerving, “I don’t know if they’ll even see you. We’ve never had a Pureblooded Yllsian surrender to us before, so there’s no telling how they’ll react.”

“Well,” Virsune said, arranging his manacled wrists carefully in front of him, “I assume they’ll react more favorably if you allow me to groom myself in order to avoid giving the impression that I am a wandering vagrant.”

Kerth suddenly seemed to focus on Virsune’s face as if really seeing him for the first time. Vaguely, he wondered if Kerth had only ever noticed the red skin and yellow eyes instead of actually bothering to look at him. It seemed likely, and Virsune couldn’t blame him, were he being completely honest with himself. The Ryll had experienced an unprecedented population boom in the last seven hundred years, but they were hardly common. It was still strange to see one of his people beyond the borders of the Union, though that was largely because they had difficulties bearing children.

“You’re right,” his keeper said, relenting. “You should clean up. I’ll look for something else for you to wear, but for now…”

He reached out and pressed his thumbprint to the pad on the manacles around Virsune’s wrists. With a hiss, the mechanism released, and the metal fell to the floor with a thunk. “There are autos in this hallway who can lead you to a washroom and help you groom. Have them fetch Marus Kerth when you’re finished.”

Virsune wondered which of them was more relieved to be free of the other’s presence.

The washroom was quiet, but not silent.

The entire ship hummed with energy; the energy it took to process waste, fuel the ship, and travel at speeds beyond that of light that made traveling the vast galaxy possible in mere months. Virsune could hear the mechanical autos milling around outside the room, communicating with one another in the language of machines, different than the language they used to communicate with their organic masters.

It was a relief to be surrounded by such mundane sounds, not attended by guards or Garnets, doing something as normal as letting one of the autos shave his beard and hair. There was something therapeutic about seeing himself in a mirror again and really seeing himself, not a shabby stranger dressed in unimpressive beige and distorted in the curve of a metal bedpost.

Even his old battle scar, a fading pink line that just barely avoided bisecting his right eye, was like an old friend rather than a painful reminder. He looked much better, much younger, when his face was bare and his head was clean. Seeing the ridges of his own face clearly made him feel like he had been woken up after a long, unpleasant nightmare during which he was aware he had been sleeping but could not wake.

“Thank you,” he said to the auto who had done the job, running his hands over his chin and the dome of his head.

“You are welcome, sir,” said the auto with a bow, clasping two of its four mechanical hands in front of it. “It is my duty to please.”

Virsune smiled and clasped the auto on the arm, looking into the mechanical’s pale yellow optical sensors before he turned away. “Just… give me a moment longer, please. I’ll have you find Asyr Kerth when I’m ready.”

“Of course, sir.” The auto bowed and Virsune could hear the whirring of its parts as it backed away slowly. “I will wait outside for further instruction.”

Virsune looked back to the mirror but closed his eyes, listening to the soft swish of the doors opening, the mechanical groaning of the auto’s limbs as it walked away, and the thud of the doors closing behind it. He waited a few moments to be certain that it would not return, and then opened his eyes again, staring at his reflection in the mirror until it became almost unbearable to look at himself any longer.

“It is incredibly unlikely that anyone will recognize you,” he told himself seriously, leaning back in the chair the auto had placed before the mirror and absently stroking his chin. “You look younger than you are, and people outside of the Union hardly know what to look for.”

He let his shoulders sag as he leaned forward and placed his head on the counter, closing his eyes again and trying to regulate his breathing. “You are going to survive. You have for years, though to what end…”

He sucked in a breath through his teeth, and finally, finally he could feel his eyes stinging with unshed tears, finally his throat constricted and it grew difficult for him to breathe without gasping. Gritting his teeth, he balled his hands into fists and willed his breathing to return to normal, willed his eyes to stop leaking tears as he pushed himself upright and stared at himself in the mirror.

“No. It’s over now,” he told his reflection, searching his own eyes and seeing the determination in them despite the sheer exhaustion written on his features. “You made your choice, you will live with the consequences.”

He pushed himself up, knees creaking as he stood, leaning across the counter to stare himself directly in the face. He’d left behind his old life for a reason, after what had happened two years ago. His time on Jaycicar had worn him to the quick, left him nothing but a stub of his former self, so it was unsurprising that he was doubting himself now after so long spent alone.

“The truth is, whether you would like to admit it or not, Kerth is not completely incorrect. If he were, you wouldn’t have sacrificed all you did. If he were…” Virsune sucked in another breath through his teeth. “Well, it is unlikely you would be here now.”

He sunk back into the chair, feeling his weak knees give way beneath him. Tilting his head back, he stared at the ceiling, losing himself in his own thoughts for a long moment. Two years in that prison with no one but the guards to keep him company, two years thinking about everything that had lead him there and regretting all his actions, and he was still no closer to coming to terms with his past. If he could not reconcile the things he had done with his intentions, perhaps it really was best to simply… become someone else.

He could disappear into a different part of the galaxy, a place where the fact that people were wary of him would prevent them from ever asking questions. He could rebuild himself completely and simply start over.

“They cannot find out,” he finally resolved, rubbing his hand across his face again. “You have to protect yourself. If you ever want to be free, you must guard your secrets jealously.”

If they knew, and it did not matter if “they” were the Garnets or the Imperial government, they would use him as a bargaining chip with the Union and all of his hard won freedom would mean nothing. He had to remain anonymous in order to protect the only thing left in the galaxy that mattered — his one chance to make up for all the terrible things he had done in the name of freedom and progress.

Quieting his spirit and reigning in his emotions, Virsune stood and walked over to the door, opening it to find the auto rocking back and forth slowly as it waited for him. He instructed the automaton to find him Asyr Marus Kerth, then walked out of the bathroom to wait quietly in the hallway.