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Sedmon the Sixth, Daal of Uldune—sometimes called Sedmon of the Six Lives by the witches of Karres—listened silently to the communicator relaying the subradio report from his agent on Emris.

Sedmon bit his knuckle.

Sedmon patted him on the back.

Sedmon sighed in sympathy.

The fourth Sedmon flicked the screen controls to show the star maps of the route between Emris and the Regency of Haile.

The other two Sedmons continued looking out of the one-way windows of the western tower of the mighty House of Thunders, the ancient castle in the highlands south of Uldune's capital city of Zergandol. They knew what the others were doing and thinking anyway. Ruling the web of power hierarchies and fierce business interests that made up the former pirate planet of Uldune was no sinecure. In fact, it would have been too much for most humans. But the hexaperson was the best six people for the job. The telepathically linked clones spoke only because words helped formalize their shared thoughts. Also, it was a good habit. Whichever one was on public duty that day would have to speak to ordinary people.

"A Nartheby Sprite! It would help if we could contact the Wisdoms of Karres."

"Karres has done its disappearing trick again, unfortunately."

"No idea where or why?"

"None. But the rumor of the Worm World having destroyed them is almost certainly a falsehood emanating from the ISS."

"Pausert is in great danger, however. The Agandar's fleet are certainly in hot pursuit."

The Sedmon left unsaid the fact that Captain Pausert being in danger meant that a certain member of his crew was in danger also. They all knew that. They also knew that it had surprised them to discover just how upsetting that was.

"Not to mention the ISS."

"Unfortunate about the subradio beeper."

"It has been policy to have it fitted to all ships assuming new personalities here for near on a century. It is the first time it has served us so ill. The fact that the Agandar's pirates had discovered it, and that the late Jonalo had sold the information to the Imperials is unfortunate. But that is where things stand. We must make the best of it."

"We're going to have to take action ourselves."

"I suppose we are the only one we can trust."

Two of the hexaperson got up and went to the door. It was unnecessary to discuss the mission and who would go. Or to bid the others farewell. They all knew that the Nanite plague had to be stopped. The other four would have to manage without them.

* * *

The Sedmons' ship, Thunderbird, did not look like the vessel belonging to a wealthy, powerful planetary ruler. But then, it wasn't supposed to. The ship did have a number of features that were unusual even for a full-size battleship, and simply unthinkable in a scruffy-looking cargo tramp. Right now, what it had that was important was speed. And also a subradio tracker, fixed to the frequency of a certain signature transmission given out by the engines of the Venture. Even at this range, the signal and direction indicators were giving readouts. Emris, the world from which the Venture had lifted, was three dangerous weeks travel from Uldune, across the zone of space called the Chaladoor. To go around took the better part of a year. However, the Venture's course headed her inward towards the Empire's heart at a tangent which the Sedmons' ship could intersect in little more than two months. The hexaperson could only hope that that would be soon enough.


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