L5

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L5 - WHITE ROCK

On short notice, Terel and his family had left almost everything they owned behind on Europa. All they had left was the clothes on their back, the frigate Exiler, and everything aboard her. Greidi and Nuriel went through the ship cataloging whatever they found while Terel flew on to the distant outskirts of the Jupiter system to meet an old friend hy knew. Terel tried to teach hyz son Lahatiel as much as he could about flying.

There were many captured asteroids in the outer reaches of the Jupiter sys- tem that orbited the planet as so many small moons, but only tiny White Rock had a greenhouse. An artificial black hole created a full gee of gravity on the surface of White Rock, but that gravity fell off so rapidly with distance that the asteroid could not hold an atmosphere for very long, unless the air was glassed in. Unfortunately any glass house was vulnerable to other people throwing stones. Hence the current proprietor of the White Rock operation, Starkad, was ever in the market for armaments.

The Navy had approached White Rock twice before, and Starkad resorted to bluffing to survive the encounters. The first bluff was a suicide bluff. Starkad told the approaching warship hyz family would blow up the glass en- closure and eject the black hole, killing themselves in the process but ensuring that no one could ever use the rock. The second bluff occurred after Starkad and hyz entire family had been captured by commandos and were already being taken away to be tortured. When Starkad was put under torment aboard the destroyer ChastiserStarkad "confessed" to have arranged a timed blast take out their greenhouse. Since Chastiser's CO intended to gain White Rock intact, Starkad and hyz family were returned to their as- teroid alive, but with life-changing injuries from the torture.

The Navy of Belial never gave up on their problems. Starkad's only remain- ing option was to give up the asteroid, walk away, and live. That is, until Terel parked alongside White Rock in the Exiler to pay his old friend a visit. Access was through a landing pad atop a tall glass-enclosed gantry where the gravity was only half a gee. Greidi and Nuriel stayed aboard the frigate. When Terel and Lahatiel descended the ladder they felt the weight begin to pile on. Then they were through the glass and in.

Starkad had a nostalgic streak. Amid the two hundred acres of forest and gardens wrapped around the tiny ball was a big lawn, with a white two-story farmhouse and an old gnarled moving tree from Gorpai, complete with a tire on a rope that the tree itself kept swinging. Under the artificial lights and heat lamps used to supplement the diminished and faraway sun they sat in chairs on that lawn, just Starkad, Terel, and Lahatiel, and they had themselves a cozy chat. In the opening round, Terel offered the Exiler entire in return for sanctuary for himself and his family.

The ship is a liability to me. Belial will never stop looking for it.'

In that case, Turel replied, I offer the four fully armed and fueled Bulldog ship-to-ship missiles we found stored in the tubes aboard.

That will pay for such protection as I can provide for only two souls.

Lahatiel stepped in and sweetened the deal. Then I will take the ship far away from here, sir, if my father will release Nuriel to me.

Turel gaped at hyz son. And where will you go, Lahatiel?

Directly to Palato of course. The Emperor will be very interested to hear how hyz honest and loyal subjects are treated here in hyz colonies.

Then you not only have my approval to take your sister with you, but you have my immense gratitude. I am thinking of the well-being of Greidi.

The dirk will need more training, Starkad said. We will help.

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