On the planet Wei Xiu II, a busy trading hub strategically placed between the galactic core worlds and the rim territories, a man walked briskly through an upscale commercial neighbourhood in the capital city Houshou.
In spite of the balmy, climate-controlled air, he was swathed in a thick brown cloak. He kept his head down and the hood pulled deep into his face, making it clear that he preferred not to be seen, let alone recognised
The man stopped in front of an anonymous building squeezed between a designer boutique on the one side and a fashionable café on the other. There was no sign above the door. It wasn’t needed. If you had business here, you knew how to find the place. If not, you weren’t welcome anyway.
The cloaked man clearly had business here, since he walked right up to the front door and pressed the button. He uttered a few words and the door swung open.
Inside, the light was pleasantly dim. The interior was rendered in tasteful blacks and browns, all leather and wood, if not natural than at least a pretty good imitation of the real thing.
“A pretty good imitation of the real thing” also applied perfectly to the android receptionist who emerged from a hidden recess and stepped forward to meet the cloaked man.
The android bowed. “May I help you, sir?” it asked, its features bland and its tone effusively polite.
“You may,” the cloaked man growled, “I’ve got a reservation.”
“Under what name, sir?”
“Under the name of Thomas Mueller.”
There was a split second pause, as the android called up the reservation data.
“May I take your cloak?” the android asked.
“You may not.”
For the space of a heartbeat, the android seemed almost human, as its shoulder executed a slight shrug. Probably a little flourish added by the programmer.
“If you’ll be so kind to follow me, Mr. Mueller,” the android said.
Mueller wasn’t his real name, of course. You didn’t use your real name in a place like this, a place where plausible deniability was of prime importance.
The cloaked man followed the android, as it glided through the restaurant, and cast surreptitious glances at his fellow diners. There were several older men with much younger women who almost certainly weren’t their wives, two young men who were clearly having an illicit liaison, a mercenary meeting a client, a cluster of men discussing shady business deals. Luckily, there was no one he knew.
In spite of the elegant interior, there was something distasteful about the place, a certain shabbiness, a hint of rottenness underlying the perfumed air. Almost as if the atmosphere of secrecy and subterfuge that permeated the place had somehow left their mark on the restaurant itself. It came with the territory, the cloaked man supposed. After all, this was a place where people went when they did not want to be seen.
The android led him to a private booth at the back of the public dining room, which suited the cloaked man just fine, for to be seen here might well mean death for him and his.
He was the first to arrive — not unexpected, that — so he slid into his seat, engaged the privacy screen and — after scanning for hidden cameras or other recording equipment — he finally divested himself of his cloak, revealing a handsome face, no longer young, with kindly dark eyes, topped by a shock of dark hair liberally shot with threads of silver.
He was Jonathan Summerton, current head of the Summerton family and Lord of the planet of Caswallon. To the galaxy at large, he had come here to Wei Xiu II for trade negotiations, though the purpose that had brought him to the nameless restaurant tonight was far darker. For Jonathan Summerton was about to commit treason.
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple | Smashwords | Scribd | 24symbols | DriveThru | OmniLit/ARe
About the Shattered Empire series:
- Prequel: Conspirators
- Book 1: Mercy Mission
- Book 2: Seedlings
- Book 3: History Lesson
- Book 4: Debts to Pay
- Book 5: Partners in Crime