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The black falcon was perched on a ledge above what looked like an entrance to a small cave. It was looking at me with something a little more than curiosity. If I could have heard it speaking, I would have heard it tell me that Rune was inside the cave and could not be disturbed and that if I tried to go in after him, I would die. But I didnít want to go in after him. I could hear him screaming, and in my mind, I could see his body being twisted into all kinds of impossible shapes.

"What do you know about the three stars?" I asked the bird.

It seemed to raise an eyebrow at me. But birds donít have eyebrows. It said nothing.

I saw the kid with the big green eyes and pointy ears. Something unpleasant was happening to him. He didnít struggle or cry out. I watched thin cuts open on his chest, along his arms and across his face. Tears poured from his eyes. The cuts split open further, and I couldnít watch any more.

I was sitting in front of a bon fire. Regan was squatting next to me, drawing lines and shapes in the dirt with a stick. Daigoro was pacing on the other side of the fire.

"Please tell me that what I did was not the wrong thing," he said.

"It wasnít wrong," I said.

"Maybe she should have lived."

"Why? Itís not like she felt guilty about what she did to you. And who knows how many other people suffered because of her. Things will be a lot more interesting with Kaylan as emperor anyway."

"You and your friends, you are all right, yes?"

"Yeah. Weíre fine. Official pardon, the whole nine yards. Weíll be leaving in the morning. For what, I really donít know yet."

"Then I wish you pleasant journeys. Next time we meet, I hope we actually get a chance to talk."

Regan looked up from her drawing. "Bye!" she said.

In the morning, we were fed another lavish meal. We were given new clothes and new weapons. Shortly before noon, we were taken to Kaylanís office. We stood in front of his desk, stiff and nervous. I remembered a day at the academy when Shane and Dylan and I had put a dead mouse in the drawer of a teacherís desk and later stood in the principalís office waiting for him to suspend us or expel us or worse. Fortunately, my mom being who she was prevented anything more than a stern lecture.

Kaylan stood up behind his desk and read the official pardon. "I, Emperor Kaylan the First, do hereby declare that the following individuals are not guilty of the crimes of conspiracy, treason, theft and murder. Talon Rosewood Konstantine, Regan Konstantine, Danel Remmington Falkenberg, Portia del Amico, also known as Cherry Pop, and Anala, the healer witch. To this end, these individuals will no longer be considered enemies of the Empire and are free to move about the universe as they please."

He rolled the scroll up. "Well, does that work for you?" he asked.

"No," I said. "You left two of my crew members out."


"Dylan and Shane."

Kaylan hesitated for just a second then added their names to the document. He did the same to a copy which he then placed in the official "important document" black sheath with the tassel, but this tassel was gold rather than red. This he handed to me. "There you are. Youíre free to go. However, before you leave, you will need to register the ship. And there is one other thing I wanted to talk to you about."

"Can you make it quick? I need to tease Cherry about her real name," I said.

"You do not!" Cherry said, giving me a little punch in the shoulder.

"I want you to work for me," Kaylan said.

"I donít work for anyone," I said.

"You will receive a large stipend each month that will be more than enough to cover any expenses you might incur for your crew or your ship. Itís come to my attention that there are several systems outside the confines of the Empire that are just now being discovered. I need to know more about these systems. What resources do they have, what kind of life do they have? And itís my opinion that we know very little about certain planets in the systems closer to us. Basically, Iím taking the role of adventuring noble one step further and making it an official position. You would report directly to me, and as I said, you will be well-paid."

I wanted to take some time to think about it, but my crew was already accepting the offer. It did sound like a good idea and a lot of fun. And we had to have a way to generate income.

"Only on one condition," I said.

"And that would be?"

"I want some kind of memorial for Shane. Just a headstone or a plaque in a mausoleum or something. I donít want him to be forgotten ever."

"I figured you would ask for something like that. Itís already been taken care of. Iíll show you on your way out."

"Thank you."

Kaylan gave us all official insignia badges that would be recognized throughout the known universe. He handed me two extra ones, one for Dylan and one for Shane. On our way out, Kaylan took us to the gardens to the south side of the building where there was a large mausoleum for senators and other dignitaries. The walls on the outside of the mausoleum were covered in bronze plaques with names and dates on them and brief epitaphs. Inside, there were several rows of free-standing brick walls. These and the insides of the outer wall were also covered with plaques. The last free-standing wall wasnít completely full. One side of it was empty except for a single plaque with Shaneís name and the dates of his birth and death. The epitaph was simply "Friend." I left the badge in the corner of the plaque.

We got to the docking bay about an hour later. I talked to the woman in charge of the official registration, who had been waiting for us to arrive for quite some time. Blue Avaís Angel got her name, and I got more official documents with Imperial seals.

I was surprised to see Dylan waiting for us when we finally went to get on board.

"Took you long enough," he said.

"Red tape," I said. "Or gold now, I guess. Are you coming with us?"

"Of course I am. Every pilot needs a seven-foot-tall shaggy side kick."

I handed him his official badge.

Then we were off, following the Shaman star to wherever.


NEXT: "The Obligatory Derelict Ship Episode"!