CHAPTER TEN

I

Sleep was no longer an easy business for Peter Troezon.

The night following Marc's miraculous resurrection found Peter's slumber plagued by disturbing images. Nightmarish visions of the dead, the sick and the dying clawed at him, tearing at his soul so that he could bring life to the diseased ridden husks of their bodies. He felt the vortex of their despair draw him into a swirling cauldron of images and voices that cried out to him for his glowing touch. He could feel their anguish choking him until the taste of their desperation bittered his tongue. The weight of their pain dragged him into the darkest depths of their misery.

They came to him in all shapes and forms, the emaciated, the diseased and the withering old. All were paying homage to him, worshipping the ground he walked by so that he could bestow unto them, his life giving touch. Their tortured souls bore pilgrimage unto him, begging, pleading and screaming at him to free them for their eternal torment. Their wails of agony and despair tore through his mind in an unending deluge he could neither ignore nor shut out.

He awoke in a cold sweat many times that night.

Each time he awoke, he found himself terrified at going to sleep again because he knew wakefulness was all that protected him from the dreams. He lay on his bed. His eyes were wide open from fright and he was too afraid to sleep but was unable to keep conscious. In the end, he remained trapped between sleep and exhaustion as his momentary lapses awoke him with terrible fear. When he was awake, he thought about his uncle and the strange events that followed his death that lonely night on Rysta. He remembered Cy lying on the floor of their cabin, dying and yet trying desperately to tell him something.

Is this what that something was? Did that strange light somehow baptise him with the power to restore life? Throughout the night, these questions burned in his mind like an everlasting flame of torture. He needed answers and he needed them quickly. Peter had to know what Cy had done to him. Was this power permanent? How far did it go? What else could there be after the ability to restore life?

A part of Peter did not want to know.

***********

"There it is."

Peter announced to Marc as they stared down into the Citadel camp. Both boys were lying down on their bellies, overlooking the hill that Peter had discovered only a day before. They were careful to take remain hidden in the foliage surrounding the pipeline. Peter waited anxiously as Marc's eyes surveyed the wide expanse of the facility before him. He needed Marc's expertise to tell him what this place was. At first he had thought it was a slaving camp but there seemed to be a lack of children if it was. Now that he thought of it, everything in the facility below them was completely alien to what he knew of Citadel mining camps or at least the one from which he had escaped. When his friend had scanned everything from one end of the horizon to the other, he looked up at Peter.

Marc did not need to look very hard to know what this place was. The sheer size and the technology it was equip with was answer enough. "That," Marc said with conviction, "is a Citadel Starbase."

"We're sunk." Peter groaned in disappointment and rolled unto his back. He had so hoped that it might be a space port of some sort. After all, there seemed to be a lot of air traffic originating from it. "We'd better get out of here," he sighed. "Before they see us."

"Calm down," Marc responded, his gaze not shifting from the Starbase. He was studying everything, from the elaborate docking facilities, to the air batteries placed strategically around the installation in the event of an air strike. There were land transports, or sliders as they were better known, whizzing from one length of the station to the other. The Starbase made the camps seem primitive.

The complement of this Starbase was at a maximum, with enough personnel to form a small army. It was hardly a surprise because despite its harsh climate, Staryn was a world rich in ore. Chrysium that powered everything from cities to warships, was the richest of them all. It had to be protected from pirates and smugglers who would try to infringe on all that wealth. From where he was, he could see Citadel officers, general infantrymen and even maintenance personnel moving throughout the base as if it was a gigantic insect colony. The activity of the place was staggering in comparison to that of the camp they had both escaped.

"I should have figured they'd have a Starbase here," Marc explained. "Staryn is full of chrysium, just ripe for smugglers. They're here to protect the main space lanes and the Mining Convoys."

"Well then let's go before they see us." Peter urged Marc warily, preparing to move away.

"We're going in there." Marc stated.

Peter stared at him in disbelief. "Are you out of your mind?" He exclaimed. "There are more guards and sentries and who knows what else in that place then they had at the camps! They'll probably shoot us if they catch us!"

"Peter," Marc said, turning towards his friend and looking at him impatiently. "They have their own space dock facilities, which means there are ships flying in and out of there all the time. If we hitch a ride on one of those ships, we'll be out of here once and for and all. Besides, the last thing they'll be expecting is two kids, especially orphans, trying to stow away."

Peter took a deep breath and tried to believe that Marc's senses had not taken leave of him completely and that this plan of his was as simple as it sounded. He wanted out of here as much as Marc did, but what he was suggesting sounded not only hazardous, but foolhardy. However, Peter could not find a reason to argue with him. After all, what choice did they have really? "Just supposing that I agree with you, which I don't, how are we getting in? Look at the fences around that place!"

Marc had looked. They were nearly fifteen feet high, with three strands of intense laser beams above them. It was also highly probable that those fences were charged with enough volts to fry anything within a hair's breath of it. The entire network was made for maximum security. To attempt breaching the confines of the installation this way was suicidal. Marc was not about to try.

"We're not going through the fences Peter, we're going through the pipeline."

That sparked Peter's curiosity. He had not thought about that. "How do we do that? I didn't see any access hatches."

"Not this far out," Marc explained, "but once the pipeline gets closer to the base, they must have maintenance hatches of some sort."

Peter was still sceptical but had decided one thing; Marc was going to do it whether or not he agreed. Perhaps this crazy plan did have a chance of success, not that Peter was about to admit it, of course. Besides, what did they have to lose really? If they failed they would be sent to the mines again. If they remained here they would eventually be caught and going back to the Quagmire was out of the question.

"I hope you're right about this." Peter sighed, "We're going to be in so much trouble if you're wrong."

"I 'm not," Marc replied confidently. "So let's move."

II

They hurried alongside the enormous pipeline, keeping cover in the foliage and the steadily descending night. As their approach to the Starbase grew more imminent, they finally happened upon what they were searching; a non descript set of steel wrungs that led up against the side of the metal surface. Marc went up first. As always, his gamble paid and found the maintenance access hatch into the pipe. The hatch was situated approximately a hundred meters from the fence line. Under the cover of dark, they were concealed well.

He knelt down beside the circular man hole and tried to pry it open without much success. It had been secured with nothing less than a computer controlled lock and nothing other than the terminal that had programmed it could force it open.

Fortunately, there was also his blaster.

"Stand back," Marc instructed Peter who was standing behind him. The latter retreated a safe distance away as Marc pulled out his weapon and took a careful aim at the hatch's weakest point.

Firing at point blank range, the cool, grey metal turned red hot before a slight blast erupted, sending shrapnel in all direction. Marc fell back and nearly slipping off the pipe. Fortunately, he stopped himself by grabbing one of the rungs of the ladder. When the smoke from the blast had cleared, Marc saw the appearance of a jagged opening into the pipe where a hatch had once been.

"Come on," Marc gestured to Peter to come forward, before climbing down into the hole. As Peter saw Marc disappear into the blackness, he felt a dreadful sense of foreboding, hearing the splash when Marc landed. He still had his reservations about this, but neither of them had a choice. Finally, he took a deep breath and climbed down after his friend.

The inside of the tunnel was lit dimly with amber light modules installed at short intervals for the benefit of the maintenance personnel that had to work here. The first thing that captured Peter's attention was the stench. The pipeline's contents being the refuse from the base, including garbage and raw sewerage swirled past them as they began walking forward.

The water line reached just below his arm pits and Peter was reminded of the Quagmire once again. He wondered which was worse. Ahead of him, Marc was wading up the tunnel fearlessly, following the light modules on the tunnel wall. He paused a moment, allowing Peter to catch up with him, before they both forged onwards, side by side.

The vermin attached to the larger pieces of waste material were indifferent to the presence of the two boys who had invaded their domain. Other than a curious glance as the new arrivals moved past, the creatures found very little else that interested them. Besides, in this place all creatures were equal. No matter how unsavoury the species.

"Breathe through your mouth." Marc instructed. "It will help you cope with the smell a little better and move slowly. You're less likely to get tired with all this water weighing you down."

"Are you an expert on this too?" Peter grumbled, finding the whole situation distasteful.

"You learn a few things when you've spent four years in a sewer." Marc retorted.

*********

Ensign Lumiya sat at her console screen, viewing the readings on her terminal with boredom. As a member of the Citadel Starbase 412's security division, she had envisioned a little more glamour than just sitting in front of a screen all day. Though necessary, monitoring the security grid was a job she loathed doing, be it over the airspace, the stellar perimeter or even deep in the underground subsystems of the base. Staryn had proved to be a quiet assignment, with very little to occupy a security officer's attention. The dark skinned woman gave her eyes a momentary respite by glancing at the officer in charge, Lieutenant Ogden Hacker, when he arrived at Star Command.

Lieutenant Hacker had been on the Starbase for only a short time, but already earned the reputation as a pompous and self important prig with ambitions to command a battle cruiser. As he strode in the command centre, Lumiya could almost see the blaze of glory that Hacker always assumed followed him.

Sighing, she returned her attention to her screen once again. Electronic information covered every inch of her console with promises of secured security status. She sat there, lapsing into a day dream where she was offered a grand promotion, in the Imperial city itself, protecting the emperor. Well, she thought with a smile, if one day dreams, one might as well aim high. No sooner than the enticing vision had flashed through her head, her console screen began screaming at her in angry red words.

ATTENTION: PERIMETER ALERT IN SUBTERRANEAN SECTOR OF BASE.

With the reactionary speed of a trained professional, she immediately punched in the keys that would identify the nature of this alert with more clarity. Command protocol demanded that she would require more information before she brought this to the attention of her superior, namely Lieutenant Hacker.

SPECIFY.

FORCIBLE BREACH OF ACCESS HATCH 1928 - 89 IN SEWERAGE TUBE 23.

A maintenance check? Lumiya asked herself. Those idiots down in maintenance have been known to send down personnel without reporting it to sector control, who were supposed to inform security. She could remember numerous times when this had taken place in the past. Lumiya wondered if maintenance would ever learn that security in all parts of the base was important, even in sewerage pipes.

However, just to be certain, the young woman called the Maintenance Supervisor. Although annoyed at being questioned, the supervisor informed her dutifully that no work was scheduled at this time, in any of the subterranean tunnels. Satisfied with this response, she finally decided that they had a genuine alert on their hands and it was time to inform the Lieutenant.

Ogden Hacker was a tall, thin, lanky man with cold features that exuded an even frostier personality. His minions regarded him with hostility because of this aloof persona and Hacker felt no need to discourage them. He felt superior to all of them because he was an Academy graduate and if they disliked him because of this, it was probably because they were jealous. He was going to be a battle cruiser commander thus saw no reason to get attached to anyone who would not be joining him in his great destiny.

"Lieutenant," Lumiya called out and interrupted Hacker's musings.

"What is it?" He asked, clearly bored by this particular duty.

Lumiya had risen from her seat and was standing at attention. "I have a perimeter alert Sir, along Sewerage Tube 23. There has been a security breath in Access Hatch 1929 - 89. Someone or something has made a forcible entry.

"Have you scanned for life forms?" He asked now that his interest was piqued.

"Affirmative, there are two signals, possibly humanoid."

"Have you checked with maintenance?"

"Yes Sir," Lumiya said trying to hide her annoyance. Did he think she was that incompetent? "The maintenance supervisor has reported that no work is scheduled at this time by any of his personnel."

Hacker took a deep breath, absorbing everything Lumiya had told him before he spoke again. "Inform Security Chief Andovar that we are now in yellow alert. He is to dispatch a security team, with weapons set for stun. Emphasise," Hacker added as an after thought, "that he handle this situation discreetly. We don't want any disturbances while the Field Marshal is here."

III

"Look," Marc declared, pointing to another service hatch on the ceiling of the tunnel. Peter had lost track of how long they had been moving through this muck and hoped that end was in sight to this journey. He was sick of being immersed in filth, deep in the bowels of a Citadel Starbase no less.

Marc waded to the iron wrungs that led up to the hatch. Putting the blaster in his mouth to prevent it from getting wet, he quickly scaled the length of the wall. Once again, the only way through the hatch above was to blast through it. As the reverberation of the blast echoed through the tunnel, Peter wondered what all these discharges were doing for their supposedly covert entry.

They emerged from the hatchway into a dimly lit place that hummed with the sound of strange machinery in operation. The tall, enormous behemoths covered the length and breath of the corridor where they were situated. They came in every shape and every size, with functions Peter could not even begin to fathom. Peter studied the huge machines, with its many gauges and counters, standing taller than he. Beyond them, stood even larger structures with water tanks that seemed to churn its contents with great speed behind their metal hulls. He wondered what this place could be.

"Distillery." Marc informed him when he finally asked. "This is where they clean the water out so that they can use it."

"Where is everybody?" Peter asked again, fascinated by this new place.

"Up above," Marc explained. "These machines are automatic. There's no need for anyone to be down here all the time. If anything goes wrong, there are people up above who monitor them and repair the damage if its needed."

"What do we do now?" Peter turned to Marc for guidance. He felt lost in this environment, not to mention that he was also a little frightened as well.

"We keep moving and try and find their flight deck." Marc answered, jogging to the nearby door.

Peter did not want to admit to Marc that he was really scared. This place was completely out of his depth and he had reasons for fearing capture by the Citadel. All his life, the Citadel had no knowledge of his existence, or any inkling that the heir to the Troezon guardianship still lived. Peter did not want that to change. He had survived for so long because of his anonymity. When he had followed Marc into the tunnel, it had not occurred to him that he faced the possibility of discovery. Now, as he moved deeper into the lion's maw, he could think of nothing else.

****************

The door opened up another corridor to them, which was just as deserted as they one they had just emerged. Marc saw a set of doors at the end of it and was pleased to discover it to be a turbo tube of some sort. All of a sudden, the stillness of the air was torn by the loud, shrill sound of a klaxon wailing at high pitch. Following it, was a clearly computer generated voice. "Attention, yellow alert, we have unauthorised persons in this base. Attention, all personnel, we have an intruder alert."

No sooner than those words had been spoken, the doors to the turbo lift slid open and standing within them, were a contingent of Citadel Stormers. Stormers were not the inefficient soldiers that had herded them along in the Staryn labour camps. The men that faced them with weapons drawn were highly trained, extremely disciplined security experts and when Marc saw them, he knew the worst. These men would not hesitate to kill them if they so much a made one wrong move.

"Halt!" One of them shouted.

Peter looked to Marc in terror, hoping his best friend would have some miracle up his sleeve that would get them out of this predicament alive. "What do we do?"

With a sigh, Marc responded, his eyes fixated on the advancing troopers. "We stay quiet and we stay still. We do whatever the hell they tell us to do and we may just get out of this alive."

He did not mention to Peter, that being alive could be worse than dying.

VI

When he had first arrived on Staryn to inspect the local Starbase, Field Marshal Maximilliam Drebble had not expected anything out of the ordinary. Indeed, throughout his long and distinguished career, this was one of the duties he despised most. He was a man of action and all he required of Starbases, was to know that they were there and that they functioned. Very little about these facilities ever really interested him.

However, today's events had shaken even his tenacious sensibilities.

He was known to the Citadel and to the galaxy as one of the greatest military geniuses to emerge within the last century. His victories at Axinar, Lycinai and most notably, the Prikase affair, had earned him the reputation as the undisputed military mind in the Imperium. Not only was he the head of Praetorian Guard, the Emperor's elite personal guard, but he was also a member of the Emperor's Inner Circle and Governor to Kardesa.

His actions and accomplishments gave his minions the impression that he was not a man to be trifled with. Thus when he had inquired about the excitement earlier on in the evening, the young Lieutenant in charge reluctantly volunteered all the information he had on the subject. In an effort to placate the visiting official, he had even presented the Field Marshal with the prisoners' belongings as a matter of interest.

The Field Marshal was slightly amused to learn that the prisoners, in actual fact were two boys. It must have been a very sobering experience to Starbase security that two children could have sneaked through their supposedly impregnable perimeter. The lieutenant gave Drebble their belongings, perhaps in an attempt to appease him over the incident and also to distract him momentarily from reprimanding the base's security division.

Drebble had found nothing of interest at first, a knife, some articles of clothing, which indicated these boys were seasoned runaways. However, there was something else, a fine velvet satchel of extremely high quality but for Drebble, what was truly unexpected was the embroidery on it. The crest on the satchel hastened him to examine its contents and what Field Marshall Maximilliman Drebble found was beyond astonishing..

It was a ring.

It was beautifully crafted and seeing it immediately transported Maximilliam Drebble to another time and place where he had looked upon the dragon seal with honour and pride. It was the time of glory and joy for him that he had often longed for in the quite moments of the night. He knew the dragon seal and he knew the banner on which it was once carried. He also knew the ring.

Later that day, he watched his wife brush her mahogany hair in the confines of their plush quarters, in silent contemplation. She was a beautiful woman, even though she was now past her thirty fifth year. However, the essence of what she was had not withered one bit over the past fifteen years of their marriage and it was that spirit Drebble loved so dearly. From the day of their first meeting, he had sworn to protect her no matter what the cost.

And it had cost him dearly.

"Anya," he said sitting at the foot of their bed as he watched her.

"Yes Max?" She said casually, still brushing her hair.

"Anya, we need to talk."

His tone immediately alerted her. She stopped brushing her hair and placed the brush down instantly. She knew that tone of his voice and Anya turned to face him. He rarely spoke in this manner unless he had something of great importance to voice to her. After all these years, Anya Drebble was so accustomed to her husband's manner that she knew what every nuance in his face meant. However, tonight, there was no expression in his brown eyes and that unsettled her greatly.

"Do you know what this is?" He asked, leaning forward and handing her the ring. She glanced at him confused for a moment, before taking the shiny gold piece in her hand and examined it closely.

Anya turned it over and the intricately carved symbol stared at her. For a second, all blood drained from her face and expression of astonishment and shock flooded into her eyes. She swallowed hard. Old memories returned to her in that split second, followed by poignant smells and visions a past where her world was nothing less than a fairy tale. She had buried them away long ago, because pain and the loss was more than she could bear.

Now, the dragon seal defied her to remember;

"Oh god, its real isn't it?" She gasped. "It's the seal!"

"Yes it is." Drebble nodded slowly. "You hold in your hand, the Royal Seal of the Troezon House. The seal worn by the first born Troezon chosen to be Emperor."

"I know that!" She snapped, almost distraught. "Aman was my brother. This was his ring and before that, it was my father's!" Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself and looked up at him again. "How do you have it? It was lost when...." Her voice trailed away, she could not bear to say it. She could not bear to say that it was lost when Aman was murdered.

"If he had been allowed burial, perhaps we may have seen that he was not wearing it," Drebble said bitterly. His own memories of that dark day were flashing in his mind. It always left him hollow and deeply sad. "I was there the day they both died and not even I could safely say that he was in possession of the seal." He was whispering now because he was certain of nothing any more.

"Anya," Drebble looked up at her. "What do you know of Aman's child?"

This time, she looked sharply at him, her eyes filled with suspicion. "Not a great deal," she replied after a moment. "Those last days were chaotic. You were fighting Rathe remember? Ferra was near hysterical. I could not make any sense of anything she said. I do remember her saying something about all not being lost, that they had a second chance. I did not understand but then there was so much happening then, to all of us before the end finally came. I asked Ferra about it but she kept saying that Peter was beyond Rathe, beyond anything. I really thought she had killed him in madness."

"What about Aman?" Drebble inquired further.

Puzzlement crossed her features and Drebble could tell that this was something about which his wife had often pondered. Even if she did keep it from him. "It was strange Max," she answered. "It was almost as if he knew, even before everyone else did, that we would lose. He knew Rathe was unconquerable by any power that our science knew. He continued on as Emperor to the end but there was something in him that knew it was over, that the Democracy and everything we had known, was going to crumble." Tears had started rolling down her cheek.

"It was like he had been defeated already."

"Did he speak of the child?" Drebble probed again.

"I asked him about it when I could make no sense from Ferra, Aman was very evasive. He said that it was taken care of and that Rathe would never get his hands on Peter. When defeat was imminent, the palace was in turmoil. The last time I saw Peter was a few days before the end. I never saw him again after that day and if the truth be known, I always assumed that Ferra killed him out of fear of Rathe's wrath on him."

It was time to tell her and Drebble honestly did not know how Anya was going to take it.

"Then this ring is Aman's. We are agreed upon that then?" He asked her firmly.

"There were never any copies made," Anya replied softly. She had lived her life since the end of House Troezon like a wounded soldier unable to comprehend that the end had come so swiftly. Only Drebble knew to what extend those wounds had shaped her life and what he was going to tell her would not make things any easier.

"It was a custom followed by all the houses that no replicas were to be made of their seals to neutralise attempts by impostors to pass themselves off as members. We Troezons, were particularly careful of this, because of our lineage as Imperial rulers. Now please," she looked up at him. "Tell me how you came by it."

"It was found with the belongings of a child," Drebble answered, knowing what affect this was going to have on her. "A child that was captured sneaking into the base."

"A child?" Her eyes widened in horror and understanding.

"A boy, about ten years old." He wanted to spare her this pain but to hide it from her, would be an even greater crime. For his beloved Anya, Drebble had sworn eternal allegiance to the Emperor Rathe. He had lowered himself to do anything that prevented her from falling prey to the bloodthirsty Citadel Hordes who had butchered all the members of the great Houses, especially those of the Troezon line.

"Could he be?" Anya's eyes met his with hope. "Could he be Aman's son?"

"I don't know Anya," he answered honestly. "You, yourself assumed that he was dead. Perhaps he is but how could this child have the signet ring of a Troezon Emperor? If Aman and Ferra were so ambiguous about Peter's whereabouts, it may be possible that they were trying to save his life instead of ending it."

"Then this child could be Peter!" Anya exclaimed.

"That," he replied. "Is what you and I are going to have to find out."

V

Drebble had married Anya Troezon early on in his career. Both he and Aman Troezon had attended the Imperial Academy together and he had met her on his frequent visits to Accra. Nothing suited Aman more than to have his best friend wed his younger sister and their friendship continued for the most of their adult life. Drebble had accompanied Aman through his campaigns during the Fyruis Insurrection, where several dissidents had tried to depose the Grand Council. There was never a man that commanded more respect in his eyes than Aman Troezon. Not only had Aman been a great leader but he was an even better friend.

With the rise of the Emperor Rathe and the birth of the Citadel, Drebble was faced a choice; to be counted as a member of the Imperium or to be executed as a loyalist. It was not a choice he was going to make until he learned that Anya had been taken by Citadel troops after the siege on the palace had ended. Boldly, he had offered the Emperor his unwavering allegiance in exchange for both their lives.

His offer had impressed the new Emperor at his backbone and Rathe accepted his gesture. Despite the questionable nature of his duties, Drebble accepted all the consequence of that allegiance even though there were many nights when his conscience wrestled with that decision.

The fate of the missing Troezon heir was one that was shrouded with mystery and ambiguity. In the early years of the Citadel, the Imperium's more fanatical members mounted a massive search for the child. Speculations ran wild that he was hidden away somewhere and that he had to be eliminated or else he would return to claim his birthright. However, despite all the possible scenarios that were offered, none had ever produced any tangible proof that solved the mystery.

Eventually, it was the Emperor himself that had quashed all the attempts to find the boy. Drebble had remembered, being quite surprised by his master's sudden generosity. However, in knowing the Emperor personally, Drebble could well understand why Rathe would find a child hardly threatening to his place at the head of the Imperium.

So what if the boy had not died? What if instead of having his own child killed, Aman Troezon had him sent away instead? Certainly, the power and the prestige of the Troezon Guardians would be lost to him but at least he would still be alive. He would be shrouded in obscurity perhaps but nevertheless existing with a chance of a life. Knowing what he did now and knowing Aman Troezon himself, Drebble was certain that this was what had happened.

If what he suspected was true then the boy in detention centre was actually Peter Troezon, the last son of House Troezon and legal claimant to the mantle of Emperor.

*********

"Wake up boy!"

The guard slammed the butt of his rifle into the wall of Peter's cell. The sound echoed through the room like a loud boom and woke Peter up with a start.

"You have visitors," the man announced before leaving the cell.

Peter sat up slowly in his bunk, his head was still groggy from sleep. His cell was a clean, sterile room with only a bed in it. Peter wished he knew where Marc was. He assumed that his best friend was in a cell very much like this one and hoped that he was well.

Suddenly, he became aware that he was not alone. The couple had waited until the guard had left and the door behind them slid close before approaching him. The man wore an impressive Citadel uniform with too many medals for Peter to count.. His dark, ebony skin reflected the sombre expression on his face. He was a little younger than Cy, Peter estimated, with greying sideburns that distinguished his already handsome features. The woman however, stared at him with barely concealed emotion on her lovely features. Her eyes however, were very familiar and it nagged at Peter where he had seen them before.

"What is your name boy?" Drebble asked, feeling a tight knot form in his stomach. Anya was struggling to maintain her composure. She was seeing the same thing he was.

"Peter." Peter answered softly, his internal senses were ringing like sirens. These two strangers were not looking for an orphan. He knew he should have kept his father's ring on him! Did they know who he was? What should he do?

"Peter," Anya nodded. She reached for him and placed her hand on his cheek, trying not to break down in front of him. "That is a very nice name. Where are your family?"

The question had to be answered carefully because he was uncertain of what these people wanted of him. Were they aware that he was a Troezon? Peter swallowed hard, feeling his heart beat in his chest with a devastating pace. "They're dead," he answered slowly. "They died when I was a baby."

"I am sorry," Anya replied. "You remind me of my brother. He had eyes like yours. Aman was a great man. He was a Emperor."

This was her brother's child. Staring at the boy face to face confirmed that. He looked exactly as Aman did at that age. He had the same wiry frame, the hazel eyes filled with hidden fire and the same determined look in his face. He and Anya were all that were left of House Troezon, her only blood kin in the galaxy. With profound sadness, she remembered what her husband had told her. If this child was indeed Peter, then neither of them could ever speak of it again.

Throughout the years, Peter safety had been assured because of his anonymity. Just because the Emperor had dissuaded his minions from searching for the boy, did not mean he would extend his generosity should the boy be actually found. Even if he was no threat to the Emperor, the question of his birthright could prove embarrassing. No, for his sake as well as that of Anya and her husband, they could never see each other again.

"Anya." Drebble placed her hand on her shoulder to offer her some comfort in this most difficult of situations. Without saying anything further, she glanced at her husband and nodded, before turning back to Peter. She reached into her robe and pulled out something from its darkened folds. Taking Peter's hand, she pressed the holo-crystal into his hands. The tears she had been trying to restrain came freely now and her hands brushed his cheek. "Goodbye Peter." With that, she turned away and promptly left the room.

Peter wanted to go after her. He wanted to ask her a thousand questions about his father and mother. What had they been like? She was his only link to the Troezons, the only family he had left in the galaxy. Even knowing of her existence, pleased him for some reason. Unfortunately, she was gone in a blink of an eye and the opportunity to speak was lost. Instead, he turned his attention to the holo-crystal that she had given him. For a moment, he was uncertain of what it was, until he found a small switch at the base of the object and pressed it.

A man and woman appeared before him in the small, holographic image. Drebble stared at the image for a moment, lost in a wave of his own memories. A second later, he returned his attention to the boy who was the child of his best friend. A child who knew nothing of his father or the man he was. Drebble wanted to change that. He owed Aman that much at least. "That is Aman and Ferra Troezon, on their wedding day."

Peter's eyes darted back to the image in excitement. Studying the image quickly, he saw that his father looked very tall. He could not be certain, because of the size of the holograph but his father seemed to have the posture and carriage of a king, anyway. Peter recognised his own eyes and hair colouring in the image of Aman Troezon, although his features could be seen in the woman who was his mother. She was beautiful, with long, shiny hair of gold and her eyes were incredibly blue, like Marc's. He stared at them both, basking in the joy of knowing what they looked like. They looked as handsome as he imagined them to be and for a while he was lost in the happiness of this knowledge.

"There is a facility on Odete 9." The man spoke suddenly, jarring Peter back to reality. "It is a military academy, one that I myself and the Emperor Aman Troezon, once attended. It is now under Citadel jurisdiction of course, but it nevertheless provides the finest education and preparatory for military service. The tenure is long and hard, eight years in fact, but it is an excellent opportunity and much infinitely safer than the Youth Centres."

The man did not look at him when he spoke and Peter wondered why.

"I can enrol you there," he continued. "Under my recommendation the Academy will accept you without any questions being asked regarding your past. Do you agree?"

"I won't go without Marc." Peter declared. "I won't go without my friend. You can't make me!" He stated defiantly.

"Rest assured," Drebble spoke allaying any of Peter's fears. "The offer was also extended to your friend. It would seem odd if I were to secure your release alone. It could raise uncomfortable questions."

This time, he looked at Peter directly and a clear understanding passed through their intense eyes.

"All right," Peter nodded uncertainly. "I'll go."

"Good," Drebble nodded and turned away towards the door. They slid open and he was about to pass through when suddenly, he turned back to Peter. "Aman Troezon was a good man and he was my friend. I do this not only for Anya, but also for him. You do understand why she cannot acknowledge you, can you not?"

Despite his own apprehensions, Peter did understand. These people were his family but any connection to him could doom them all. He did hope that someday, when the circumstances were less tenuous then they were now, he could speak to Anya and this man too, about his father and mother.

"I understand," he said softly. "Please tell her sir, that I wish I could have gotten to know her. She seems very nice."

Drebble cleared his throat, a feeling of sadness suddenly surfaced to penetrate his battle hardened exterior. His heart ached at the course of action he was forced to take with this child. Instinctively he knew it would be quite something to know this boy. "The Academy is the best Anya and I can give you Peter. I wish it were more, but at least you and your friend will be safe there. We will make certain that the both of you will be well provided for. Goodbye Peter."

"Goodbye sir." Peter said before Field Marshal Maximilliam Drebble continued out the door, leaving him alone.

Alone, but safer than before.