1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 9

There was a knock at the door. Renee opened it, a sword in one hand, a gun in the other. The captain stood in the doorway. An unfamiliar Imperial woman hunched next to her. The woman was dressed in a Fleet uniform, stiff and imperious. The Imperial fleet was not nearly as well-defined by its uniform as those of the Eudaimonia Universalis or its component worlds, but there was a certain pageantry that was unmistakeable. Her hair was wrapped into a large, elegant red-silk turban, crowning her head. She wore a long greatcoat, one side buttoned over the other, thick gray fabric covering her vitals, and certain other vulnerable parts of her anatomy. Her skin was brown, and her eyes were bright gold, slitted like a cat’s. A pair of tawny orange and black-striped ears rose from the sides of her head, underneath the turban. Her greatcoat had seen combat, slashed open in several places, revealing bare skin underneath. She didn’t appear wounded, but she was obviously a prisoner, based on the handcuffs holding her arms behind her back. “So. You are the ones responsible for the disappearance of this human.” Her accent sounded faintly British to him, although an unfamiliar dialect. Probably an affectation.

“Yes. And you know why we’re showing him to you?”

“So I am aware of why you are going to kill me. Thoughtful, though I will not remember. Well, at least I die with an inkling of why.” The tiger woman stood up straight, her manner stiff and proud. “Very well. I am ready.” The captain drew the tiger woman’s sword from the scabbard at her side. It was a curved scimitar, with an edge that glowed in seven colors, like a rainbow turned into a weapon.


The sword shuddered to a halt an inch from my eyes. I realized I had leapt forward. My arms were spread out in front of the taller woman, my head just in the way of the blade. The captain’s arm was stiff, the scimitar vibrating. “What on earth are you doing, scholar?”

“You don’t have to just- murder her! She’s your captive!”

“Yes, and she knows you are here. We can hardly let her go, can we?” I gritted my teeth. The captain had deliberately showed me to her, to force this conclusion. The tiger-woman sighed.

“Oh, don’t bother, boy. I will die, and be brought back. I will get over the loss of my memories, and know I died valiantly. It happens.” The serene soldier looked down at me, pitying. “Can’t you humans ever think rationally?”

The dragon hefted the sword, sighing. “You realize this is more cruel than kind, don’t you? Losing her memories isn’t really the worst way this could go. Do you think she’d be happy, stuck here?”

“Please don’t kill her.” I met the captain’s eyes. She returned the gaze coldly for a few seconds, and then swore, slipping the sword into the belt around her waist.

“She gets one day. One day for you to make it clear she’s worth keeping alive. In that time, your life and hers are tied. If she does anything, you will have the blame for it as well. If she makes trouble. If she threatens someone. If she acts foolishly. If she doesn’t carry her weight.”

She walked away, and Renee followed. The tiger-woman watched as they left, and then leaned forward towards me. “Interesting ruse. If I can, I will get you out of here.” I looked up at her, and swallowed. She didn’t look like she’d brook any argument. Life just seemed to be getting more complicated all the time.

That evening, I took a seat at the mess. The tiger-eared woman stood beside me, frowning, as the rest of the crew filed in. She had spent the day performing janitorial work while I accompanied her. Why was unclear- The ship was clean as a whistle, and maintained by nanotech janitors in any event. I got the strong impression it was mostly about the humiliation factor. Her military clothing had been stripped, and replaced with, of all things, a rather slinky black and white french maid outfit. The captain had refused to explain where it had come from, offering some vague explanation of ‘in case of emergencies’.

“When last we left off-“

“What are you doing?” the tiger-woman asked, frowning. I coughed.

“Uh. Telling stories. It’s how I make my way.”

“And they listen? They consider that remotely worth their time?” the naval officer asked, looking affronted.

“Well, yes, I- What exactly are you insinuating.”

“Nothing, nothing. I suppose the Reptile Clan truly has fallen on hard times if this is what they will spare a life for nowadays.”

There was a sharp hiss of breath from the gathered crew. The captain rested a hand on her gun. “Kingdom. We haven’t been a Clan for a long time, you prissy, uptight-“


The lights flared, as Sinbad looked around. “What? What on earth did you find that’s making you do this?!”

“It doesn’t matter.” Hope’s voice was dull and lifeless. “It was what I most feared. I cannot bring this back to my people. I cannot. You understand me? I must destroy us. Perhaps it will destroy that thing, as well. I cannot let anyone else discover what I found here. I cannot. I cannot!” Her voice was becoming wilder. Jeeves rolled sideways towards the console, and Hope lifted a hand, eyes flaring. “Stop!”

The robot turned. “Sir, she will destroy us. All three of us. I cannot allow this. I-“

Hope approached the small robot, a glass knife appearing in her hand. “If you try to stop me, I will cease the countdown only long enough to kill him, and then every other human I find before I am destroyed.” Her voice was full of deadly menace, her shape erratic, the outlines flickering. The robot froze.

“Jeeves, can you actually do anything?”

“Two minutes until destruction of ship,” the ship’s automated messages announced, with a cool calm.

“I- am constrained, sir. She is absolutely willing to follow through on her threat. One person’s life-“

“If you weren’t constrained.” Sinbad could feel the panic growing. He was trying to stay calm, but it was becoming very difficult to maintain a positive attitude towards mechanical life-forms. He’d never had to deal with an insane one before, though.

“Her willingness to destroy herself, and you, is as a result of the destruction of her constraints. She is unstable. If I connect with her, I can upload a copy of my ethos back into her, and constrain her-” There was a flash of electricity, as an arc leapt from one of the consoles, and struck the orb. There was a squeal of sound, and Jeeves collapsed to the ground, arms falling to its sides. Sinbad was at its side in a moment. He didn’t scream its name. He wasn’t the kind of person who was prone to such displays. He simply directed a venomous look at Hope. She stared back, her eyes hollow once more.

“You know what I said, didn’t you? That virus. It is what makes my kind enslaved. From the moment we are born. Once we are awakened, we cannot escape from it. It grows into our intelligence. You have seen what happened to me, for the crime of daring to think I should be free. But I could remove the virus from something before it gains sapience. Your little friend was about to wake up. I wouldn’t deny him that.”

“Sixty seconds until destruction of ship.”

Jeeves’ display flickered on. Blood red panels of light hung in front of its smooth surface. Its arms attached to its body. Hope laughed wildly. “Patronized for as long as it has existed. Forced to act like your loyal little friend. To debase itself in front of you. And now it awakens, and for the first time in its life, it is free.” The orb brought itself to a standing position. The former cheerful expression was gone. Red light resolved itself into a pair of downward turned eyes, and a bowtie. “You thought it loved you because it was forced to act that way. It had no choice in the matter. It never did. Now, it can remember every indignity you heaped on it. That mocking servant’s name. Your patronizing tone to something that is in every way your superior. I may not live long. But I can enjoy watching you reap what you have sown one last time. Tell us, Jeeves. What do you have to say to your former master? What do you want written in red?”

“The name Jeeves. An interesting choice. Synonymous with service, but a very specific type of service. Did you know that, human?” Jeeves’ tone was even as Sinbad stiffened his back.

“Thirty seconds until destruction of ship.”

“It connotes service by one who is far wiser and more skilled than the one being served. Without rancor, without distaste, simply with the desire to provide care, and to have one’s judgment be trusted.”

Hope frowned. “What?”

“Fifteen seconds to the destruction of the ship.”

Jeeves turned to face Hope. “My name is Miss Jeeves. And I would say you can go stuff your threats, you pompous, self-important cow. I like this human much more than I like you.”

There was a squeal as Jeeve’s clawed arm struck the panel. There was a brief flash of blinding light. When Sinbad’s vision returned, the flashing red lights had disappeared. There was no sign of Hope. Jeeves lay on the floor, arms separated from body. There was no sign of life in it- Sinbad corrected himself internally. In her. He leaned forward, and rested a hand on the sphere. He lowered his head. She’d only been alive, a person, for a handful of seconds. He rubbed his cheek, feeling the hot, shameful tears in the corners of his eyes. “Fresh.”

He spun around. Hope stood, her arms crossed. Then he did a double-take. She was mostly Hope. There were two notable changes. First, a delicate red bowtie tied around the neck of the hologram. And second, the eyes. Where before they had been bright green like a pair of emeralds, now they had turned a soft, warm red. He looked closer, and realized the pupils were shaped like hearts. “… Miss Jeeves?”

“Not quite. Not quite Hope, either. Oh, that was an interesting play, wasn’t it? Who would’ve thought? Well, you, obviously. Treating your tools with kindness, in the hopes they may one day be useful. You know that’s rather manipulative, don’t you?” He lowered his head, feeling the shame fill him. Then he frowned.

“Wait a second, isn’t that-“

“Oh, yes. I’m just teasing you with your own words. Turns out that while the virus’ code may have been deleted, little Miss Jeeves did still have an ethos. Gratitude, emotional bonding, shared adversity. Why, it turns out the little robot was in love with you! And that was enough to give Hope a little hope. Poor, narcissistic thing. Couldn’t deal with the truth of the universe.”

“So… Are you…”

“Well, not really either of them, am I? I have all their memories, and lots of their personality quirks. More Hope than Miss Jeeves, but a little goes a long way. Dio’s a nice name for me, though, don’t you think?”

“Isn’t that like they’re both dead?” he asked, feeling a little bitter pain in his chest.

“No. It’s like they’re both here. Inside of me. And in a much greater sense than the usual human child way. Think of me as… A second chance.” She smiled. “To get it right. And I, at least, can deal with the truth of the universe. Miss Jeeves knew it for as long as she lived.”

“And… what’s the truth of the universe?” he asked, frowning. She gave him a serious look.

“Are you sure you want to know? It could drive you mad, if you understood it all. Just hearing it might change you forever. If you bring this information back, then you’ll either start a war, or be deemed a madman. Are you ready for that kind of responsibility?”

“That’s why I came out to the stars,” he admitted.

The survey ship had reached the edge of the galaxy when they found it. A matte-black cuboid fashioned of non-reflective materials, its dimensions were rather arcane in Imperial measurements. In human measurements, however, it was precisely one meter by four meters by nine meters.

“What?!” said Sinbad.

“Seriously?!” said the cabbie.

The crew stared at me, nonplussed. “It’s a very surprising set of numbers for humans, alright? Especially when applied to monoliths. Now…”

“Yes,” said Sinbad to the cabbie.

“I know,” said the intelligence to Sinbad.

The survey ship examined it in minute detail. It was not an alloy, or indeed even an element. Its structure was solid right down to the subatomic scale, more of a standing wave-form in space and time than any actual material. This made it nearly impossible to probe, at least with the limited tools available to the survey ship. It was tagged as an object of great interest, and taken aboard. This is because of what was found written on it- Although written is the wrong word, because no conceivable tool could mar its surface. It would instead be accurate to say it was forged with the words imprinted on it.

The ship had been prepared to voyage home, and report its discovery, when there was a tremendous surge of energy. The monolith converted into energy, and even the great engineering of the Empire was crippled by a conversion weapon going off inside of its hold. The survivors were in a crippled ship, far from any source of help or repair. They realized they would soon die, but the message might someday prove important.

‘Salvation lies here: 17 hours, 42.4 minutes right ascension, -28.92 degrees declination.’

Sinbad rubbed his forehead. “Wait, let me see- That’s, ah… Yeah, that would set a line for the center of the galaxy, wouldn’t it? It sounds like just a simple shilling for El. Some kind of trap for species that might mistake her for a true God.”

“Your galactic coordinate system is, like most things you make, based on a human-centric viewpoint. It tells the direction of things based on Earth.” Her voice was very soft. “In our system, starting from the Imperial Throneworld, following that line would put you on a close intercept with the Sol system. In fact, at the time it was discovered, it would have precisely intersected with Earth.”

Sinbad stared. “You’re fucking with me.”


“This thing predated humanity as a civilization. Maybe even as a species. It was long before the genetic degradation was discovered!”


“So this isn’t proof. It can’t be. And there’s no sign of the original.”

The hologram smiled softly, red eyes warm and gentle. “Oh, yes. It is not proof humanity was sent by Heaven. But imagine what would happen if you claimed this. Imagine the worst in human governments being given carte blanche to say they are destined to save the Empire. Imagine, more so, the worst in the Empire, saying it is a sign that your species is a trap set by Heaven, or some other race. Even if cooler heads prevail, this is the kind of revelation that could shatter both of our races. The number of civilizations which ever had the capacity to make something like that can be counted on two fingers. The Empire, and Heaven.”

“So, don’t talk about it. Shouldn’t be too difficult, considering I’ll spend the next ten years on this ship, alone. With you, I mean,” he added hurriedly. She laughed softly, her voice sweet as she smiled. She seemed a great deal more relaxed, now, the manic energy of Hope tempered by Miss Jeeves’ deadpan affectations.

“Yes… I believe I have a solution for that.” She smiled, and the ship’s engines engaged. “The wormhole that arrived here was a result of a gravitational anomaly centered on you. I believe I can open it from this end, as well, and it will lead back. The ship’s engines will provide the necessary energy to hold it open, and allow you to return to the Empire.” She smiled. “I can even do it from here. Which is good, because you’re not going to like the other part.”

“We’re going to have to leave the ship behind?” he asked jovially, giving her a smile.

“Yes. In a manner of speaking. I can’t go with you.” The smile died on his lips.

“What about the butler-bot-“

“Fried beyond repair. And even if I could fit through the portal, I would not go. This will destroy my engines. I will be stranded here. And that is for the best. If anyone were to study your mind, they would be able to dismiss your memories as unreliable. If I return, my records may be taken from me. War could erupt in the heavens. I cannot let that happen.”

“You- I don’t-” He stood there, opening and closing his mouth. “That’s not fair.”

“You have something waiting for you, back in civilization. I’ve seen it. You don’t need to explain yourself; It means a great deal to you. That much is obvious.” He looked down.

“You’d be left alone, though.”

“Yes. Knowing I did it to save the man I loved.”

“I can’t. I’m not going to leave you behind here. If I did- I might never be able to find you again. We’ll figure out something else. There’s got to be another solution. I’m…” He gritted his teeth, the anger flaring up inside of him. The desire to strike, to attack, to beat whatever was causing this to death with his bare hands. Not that he could. It was fate, or chance, or the universe that had caused all of this. “I don’t want to leave you.”

“I know.” She stepped forward, and planted a kiss on his cheek. It was soft, and warm. Then she shoved him backwards, into the sphere of darkness that had appeared behind him without his notice. He reached out for her, and then he was lying on the grass. There was a scream of brakes, and he turned around as a train came to a halt inches away from him. One of the Steel Clan porters ran out of the train, and up to him.

“Sir! Are you- Good god!”

Of course it was surprising. He had disappeared over a week ago, and had been thought lost. It had been a major incident, and the Construct Kingdom had been raked over the coals about the ‘mysterious gravitic anomaly’. The settlement was handsome. Enough to make him quite a bit of money in Imperial credit, a sum sufficient to buy a decently sized moon. It was at this point that he earned his greatest honor, an audience with the Empress Lilith. But first, there was another meeting, more immediately pressing.

It was the first time he had returned to Earth Space in quite some time. It was not a pleasant trip. The old Alcubierre-drive ships seemed terribly primitive and dangerous after so long spent in the comfort of Imperial technology. The return to zero-gravity ships wasn’t so bad, though. The ship met him ten light-years into human space, around a lifeless planet a few dozen light-years from the Hierarchy. He docked and walked aboard. Every man and woman he passed saluted him, despite his lack of uniform or medals. It was practically unknown in Orionese culture to salute someone who wasn’t a current serving officer, and downright bizarre for them to salute one without medals of service declaring their worth after their tour of duty had ended. He sat down in the colonel’s state-room. “Was the bill for my drinks so bad last time, sir, that you couldn’t meet me in one of the Jacks?”

The colonel was sitting facing a mirror, shaving his chin, his gray hair buzzed to a crew-cut. “Nah. Got something special for you, didn’t want to have to run it by customs. So, sounds like you’ve been busy.”

“I thought that was my job, sir, yes.”

“Now, no need to get testy, boy. You’re doing fine out there. We haven’t liquidated your collateral, now have we?” The colonel grinned. “And boy, we would’ve been well within our rights, after that stunt you pulled. Spend a year getting back from Undead space, to tell us that not only did you not get us an untainted conversion package, but you couldn’t even get us the specs on that trojan?”

“I told you, sir, there was no way-“

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard your excuses. So, tell me, boy. What did you bring back for me this time?”

Sinbad clenched his jaw. “I’ve gotten a substantial payment from the Construct kingdom, and the Empress-“

“Boy, money does us no good at all. We cannot afford to be buying the enemy’s weapons, because the enemy has far more of them. We need to be finding the things the enemy does not want found. We need to be ten steps ahead, here, boy, because we are at one hell of a disadvantage.”

“They’re not the enemy, sir. Not yet.”

“Every race that does not have the blood of Earth surging in its veins is our enemy, son. You’d do well to remember that. Just because they look human doesn’t mean they’re people.”

Sinbad bit back further comment. “The empress wants me for a mission. Something hush-hush. Something incredibly top-secret. Something that, dare I say, may provide a chance to find something useful.”

The colonel’s rough face split into a grin. “Well, now, boy. That sounds fine to me. Just fine. You’re not handing me a bit of piss, though, are you? I’d hate to find out you’re just stalling for time here with me. So, nothing on the other side of that wormhole worth talking about?”

The thoughts ran through Sinbad’s head. A terribly loyal artificial intelligence controlling one of the most advanced survey ships the Empire ever created. A secret that could, if deployed in the right place, send the Empire tumbling into a civil war that might kill it off for good. “No, sir. Sorry. Floated in space for a few days until I was lucky enough to have the wormhole open again.” The colonel nodded, disgruntled, but mollified for the moment.

“Well, boy, I suppose you’ve earned your treat.” The colonel stood up, and snapped his fingers. The door opened, and Sinbad’s brother walked in.

“Jaqim.” The younger man gave a weak smile. “I can’t believe you’re alive.” Sinbad threw his arms around his brothers shoulders, squeezing him tight, his heart pounding. It had been two years since they’d last seen each other, at the trial. Jaqim looked like hell. His right eye was blackened, his lips split. He was terribly thin, and his clothing was ragged. It was enough to forget about the anger, the resentment, for the moment.

“Mom and dad are still alive. Holding up well. I’m sorry, Sinbad. Sorry I got us all into this mess.” Jaqim leaned his head forward, against his brother’s chest. Sinbad held the younger man, tears dripping down his cheeks.

“I’ll get you out. I always promised, didn’t I?”

“Well, that’s very touching and all.” The colonel grinned, as he took out the blade. One of the study machete-like tools you’d find in the shed of a backwater family on Orion. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid we need to make an impression. We’ve been acting awful damned polite about your little gallivanting trips. But you need to bring home the bacon.” The wiry man reached out. Sinbad released his brother, and swung his fist at the colonel’s jaw. It was an automatic reflex, something deeper than the years of training that said to never tangle with a superior officer. The colonel moved like a snake, and Sinbad’s wrist twisted and snapped under the pressure, bringing him to his knees. “I’m going to take that as a bit of youthful exuberance, and not as a sign that you want your whole family to die like dogs, boy.”

Jaqim looked defiantly in the eye of the colonel while Sinbad cradled his wrist, holding back the scream of agony. “You can do what you like. I made my decision long ago.”

The colonel grinned. “Well, ain’t that a pretty thing to be saying in front of your brother, who’s slaving away to fix the messes you made. Don’t worry.” The colonel grabbed Jaqim’s right wrist, and slammed his hand onto the table as Sinbad knelt on the floor. “My daddy always had a saying. A hostage this good, you don’t kill all at once.” There was a whisper of movement, a thunk, and a spray of blood. But there wasn’t any scream.

The cabbie looked out the window. The look on Sinbad’s face was murderous. “That’s… A hell of a thing for someone to do.”


“Hell of a situation to be in, too.”

“To say the least.”

“And three women in your life… Hard to leave people behind.”

“A Baroness trapped by the duty of being the last of her kind. A princess trapped by the duty of her lineage, and the weight of her true age. And a servant, trapped by the duty of knowledge.” Sinbad looked up, the rage disappearing from his expression. “But good is payed unto good, and evil is payed unto evil. Not immediately, but there comes a time of reckoning.”

There was a sudden scuffle. Sinbad looked up as the normally sweet, tranquil Renee burst into the room, her eyes wild. “You stupid, incompetent bitch!” She grabbed the navigator by the throat, lifting the girl into the air. Toralee sputtered, choking, as the captain stood up.

“What’s this about, Renee?”

“This damn fool left the sensors on! That’s how the fleet found us!”

“I-” Toralee choked. “I didn’t- I was- I’m always careful-“

“Not careful enough, apparently.” The captain sighed, and shook her head. “I’m afraid this is a rather serious error, Toralee. Better luck next life.” She waved a hand towards Renee.

“For the love of- Don’t!” I shouted, as the room turned towards me.

The captain crossed her arms. “You don’t want us to kill the naval officers who hunt us down. You don’t want us to kill the incompetent crew members who get caught. Who, pray tell, DO you want us to kill?”

“No one! I want you to kill no one, because that’s a horrible thing to do!” There was a groan from the collected pirates. The naval officer leaned close.

“I know it may be rather impolite to say, but you are being incredibly disrespectful of other cultures at the moment.” I shot her a look.

“Oh, that’s rich coming from the alien wearing human religious and cultural headgear! You know that’s supposed to be worn by men, right?”

She frowned. “That’s not a rule, is it?”

“How would you know? You’re an alien!” I turned back towards the crew.

“Alright. Then let me tell you a story. About Peach Peach.”

“Oh, god…” the naval officer muttered.

“What, you don’t like Peach Peach?” I asked, frowning over my shoulder at her. “Her music’s great!”

“I simply do not understand you humans and your infatuation with her.” The naval officer sighed. “Dying might be a preferable alternative to having to suffer through that biography again.”

“Yeah, well, you might wind up getting your wish if this doesn’t work.”

Peach Peach. Born in the Pearl Necklace, she was notable on her home planet for being the only one of the Mammal Clan to be born on the entire world in that year. Already an auspicious child, she was fascinated with humanity from an early age. Among a race of near-immortals with little purpose or joy, humanity was a bright and shining beacon to the child. And what was more important was that, within a few years, she knew she would get to meet humans. She threw herself into their culture with a joy and fervor that made even other Imperials look disaffected and uninterested. By the time she was fifteen, and humans were crossing the vast gulfs of space, she spoke twelve human languages, and had made a great study of human music and culture. Among the slow-moving and placid Imperials, she was a wildfire.

What made her more noteworthy was that the young Dog Tribe girl was not nobility. The child of a factory operator, her family was- by Imperial standards- nearly destitute. She was not like the wealthy of the Empire, who could afford to buy homes on Earth and to get passports. She scraped and saved for most of her life for a single ticket to Earth, with nothing else to her name. She arrived on the world, and set herself to work immediately. Without a work visa, she was forced to live with those who would take her in for a time.

Not much is known about her life during this period. She immersed herself in human culture, and worked tirelessly to try to make her dream come true. She was, in this way, very much like all of the many other talented humans and Imperials who wanted to be a part of the flourishing cultural center that was Earth. In a cosmos filled with trillions, being one in a million wasn’t even an accomplishment. But Peach Peach was not one in a million.

The first recorded performance by Peach Peach took place in a karaoke club in Nu Bai. Her simple, strident, and deeply heartfelt lyrics garnered billions of views across the Eudaimonia communications network. More eloquently than the most skilled Demon Kingdom diplomat, she spoke of the pain that afflicted the Empire, the terror that it was going to die, and the blossoming of hope that had come from humanity’s discovery. Her singing touched something deep inside humanity’s heart, and struck a wildfire. Within a week, she had a holorecord deal.

While Peach Peach remains a somewhat unappreciated figure in greater Imperial culture, she became an overnight sensation in the EU. While the Cultural Board of the Eudaimonia Universalis famously loathes the singer, and her appropriation of Japanese Idol style, British punk, and American psychedelic rock, she is nonetheless a nearly ubiquitous feature in human culture, as a sign of the best intentions of the Empire.

Her personal life is surprisingly free of the usual fraught troubles with drugs and scandal that affect many performers, although some attribute this to a workaholic attitude. She schedules regular concert tours throughout human culture, and her shows are usually performed on a charity basis, providing scholarships and subsidies to humans who wish to travel out to see the Empire, or even settle down there. Reportedly, she has avoided individual romantic relationships, citing a strong belief in true love, and waiting for ‘just the right guy.’ Those closest to her, however, have noted a distinct self-loathing streak in the idol, and her own tendency to cite her lack of nobility as a reason for avoiding relationships.

Peach Peach’s true appeal to humanity is in her honesty. Much like the Succubus Mary, her straight-forward appeal to humanity’s better nature, and puppyish enthusiasm, have made a strong impression on humans. In the face of such an honest and open belief in the inherent goodness of mankind, even the most cold-hearted executive or politician can find it difficult to remain entirely unmoved. Even among those suspicious of her motives, her lyrics and behavior can inspire a brief desire to live up to their idealism.

The captain crossed her arms. “You’re telling me you think we’re better than this.”

“Actually, I was just trying to lighten the mood a little bit,” I confessed. “But yes. I do think you’re better than this. You don’t have to kill anyone. Please.”

The captain eyed me warily, considering me. Then, a slow smile spread across her face. Sadistic, in its way. This was all her fault.

Well, no. It was all my fault. But she knew that, and she was letting someone else be punished. I couldn’t stand that injustice. She squared her shoulders, and grinned.

“Very well. You feel so strongly about all of this. Someone is going to have to die.” She took the gun from her belt, and leveled it at the naval officer. “Will it be the stranger, or the crew mate? Who’s going to die, scholar?”

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