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Toil and Strife

Hathe Book One and two

By Mary Brock Jones


All material contained herein Copyright © Mary Brock Jones 2018. All rights reserved.

Box set Edition

ISBN: 978-0-473-43071-9

Individual books copyrighted to the author. All rights reserved
Previously published as:

Resistance: Hathe Book One © Mary Brock Jones 2015
ISBN: 9781310046032

Pay the Piper: Hathe Book Two © Mary Brock Jones 2015
ISBN: 9781310869174

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is coincidental.


For more works by this author, please visit:



Cover Design by Fiona Jayde. www.fionajaydemedia.com

Table of contents

Resistance: Hathe Book One


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Pay the Piper: Hathe book two


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Torn Excerpt

About the Author



To my sons who grew up with Hathe.

Here it is at long last.


Hathe Book One

By Mary Brock Jones

When two, opposed worlds fight for survival, what chance have a pair of duty-plagued lovers caught in the middle?


The stars beckoned and man went, spreading out to populate the new worlds with new ideas and new ways. Shining among those new worlds was Hathe. It had peace, stability and wealth, all in sufficient abundance to bring forth a world in which there was a blossoming of the arts, the sciences and sheer curiosity.

Particularly, it had wealth.

But that was before the Terran ships appeared in Hathian space.

Before a raw and untried Hathian fleet flew out in futile battle against the invaders.

Before the Terrans stole the most precious jewel in the Hathian treasury:


Chapter One

Voices, coming closer. Too close. Marthe asn Castre tapped urgently on the small, clear patch on her wrist. After four years of occupation, the secret code of the Hathian resistance was as familiar to her as her own Harmish tongue.

“Terrans. Everyone out, now.”

The reply came straight back, a sharp tattoo in her earpiece.

You too. Move it.”

Too late. The voices were nearly at her position, and footsteps sounded in the corridor outside. Marthe looked around the room. Banks of com instruments and control panels, a simple table and chairs at the center. There, in the far corner, a space between the wall and an equipment stack. She flattened herself back against the wall and eased into the gap. It was tight. For once being small was a blessing. She checked the shadows on the floor. Straight lines only—no telltale, dark fingers of a human shape.

“Ten point kitty, fives high.”

The ugly sound of the Terran Standard words stopped just outside the door. She froze. A narrow gap between the equipment banks allowed her to see the doorway and part of the room. One man walked in, then two more. A scrape of chairs and the clatter of men settling at the table in the center of the room.

“Get ready to be fleeced, boys.”

“Sure, Charlie. Like last time,” came the sardonic reply.

A rattle, then the unmistakable jingle of chips hitting the tabletop.

Fiver players. Just her luck. Officially banned by the Terran administration, the gambling game was rife among the rank-and-file occupation troops—and a game could last for hours. She peered through the slit towards the far bank of controls. This room was the heart of the Terran communication system controlling this sector of Hathe, her home world. Sitting in the input slot was a thin sliver, her sliver, downloading all the essential data captured in this room. A minute more and she would have her treasure. If the Terrans didn’t see it, and if they didn’t notice her before their stupid game finished.

Marthe, are you clear?” said the rapid fire of tapping in her ear. She barely had room to reach her wrist to send a reply.

Go ahead without me. I’m stuck here. Three Terran soldiers playing Fivers.”

The reply was crystal clear and emphatic—her oldest childhood friend Jaca, Jacquel des Trurain, suddenly remembering he was the appointed leader on this mission.

Report,” he ordered.

She told him all, using terse shortcut codes, and could imagine his face at the other end. Jaca would not be happy.

She looked out at the room. Her sliver was still safe, still unseen. So far.

We’re coming in to get you,” threatened Jacquel.


He had to give her time.

Jacquel was as stubborn as she. “Don’t expect me to leave you alone. Would Bendin?”

How could Jaca use her twin like that? “Leave him out of this,” she stabbed at her wrist. No, Bendin would not have left her here. Nor could he now do anything to help her. No longer. The code she sent back was not in any official manual, but Jaca fully understood it. The silence in her ear lasted a long time.

Hours later the Terrans still played. Marthe blamed the first man who had walked into the room. Did he not know when he was beaten? She kept herself amused by totting up the phenomenal sums he was losing and wished it was Hathians benefiting from his obstinacy rather than the hated Terran soldiers. Mind you, maybe the winners would reward their Hathian servants. If she remembered rightly, her second cousin Jessamie had been assigned to this post and was working as a general maid in the troop barracks. Imagining the look on the men’s faces if they ever learned that Jessamie was actually a highly trained chemical engineer helped pass the hours. From there, she moved on to dreaming of the day the Hathians would take back their home and formulating ever more painful and embarrassing punishments for the Terran troops to avenge every single incident she and her fellow Hathians had endured since the Terrans seized their world.

It was a delicious pastime, but even such happy dreams couldn’t take away the growing pain in her knees, bent tightly under her. She dare not move for fear of making a sound that might attract her enemy’s attention. Despite the enveloping hooded cloak of the so-called Hathian peasantry she wore, she could not risk capture. There was no way to explain how a backward pleb could have bypassed the sophisticated alarms that protected these rooms. The Terrans must never learn the truth behind the mask of their Hathian serfs.

Finally. The loser flung down his chips, growled at his one-time mates, and stomped out. Marthe peered hopefully through the crack at the winners. They leaned back in their chairs, grinned and clapped each other on the back.

” Down to the bar?” said one. A heavy jingle as they collected up their chips. “Or winner take all?”

“You think I was born yesterday?” the other man said, laughing. “Just hand over half that credit balance and let’s go.”

The first man looked about to argue. Marthe held her breath. Go, go, she urged, trying fruitlessly to flex her numbed muscles without moving. The man stared belligerently at his mate, totting up the balance on their tablets, then moved his fingers as he split it into two. Then he relaxed, reached out a hand for his tab and stood up with a resigned chuckle. “McElroy’s or the Crew Stop?”

The second man clapped him on the shoulder. “Crew Stop. No greasy Hathians there. And the first round’s mine.”

Finally, finally, they were both standing, both walking out the door. They rounded the corner, footsteps tromping down the corridor. They were gone. She could no longer hear their boots sounding against the hard floors.

Marthe carefully eased herself up, gritting her teeth against the agony of long-cramped muscles, throttling back the cries that rose in her throat.


The troopers?” she queried.

Cleared the building. You are safe to move. Now get out of there.”

Yes, sir,” she messaged weakly. Jaca would know exactly how much she meant that.

An hour later, he was still massaging her aching legs. They were in the back room of the Hathian quarters, under full surveillance protection. Jaca had thrown back his hood and leaned over her, his face still half angry, half desperately frightened. “Don’t you ever put me through something like that again.”

“Just ’cause you’re bigger than me, doesn’t mean you can boss me around.” The old joke fell flat, as usual. He was tall, Jaca, almost as tall as Bendin, but his lean frame had never been a match for her brother’s broad build; and she had never let Bendin order her around. Just because since babyhood they had both imagined their purpose in life was to protect her didn’t mean she had to buy into it.

“If Bendin—”

“Well, he can’t,” she shot back. Which silenced Jaca immediately. “I’m all right now,” she said gently to his bowed head after a time, and wriggled her feet to prove it.

He looked up, was about to open his mouth in apology.

“No, don’t.”

He shook his head, rubbing his hand through his hair. Then took a breath, stepped back and gave her the lopsided grin that spoke of unvoiced trouble.

She pulled the sliver from her inside pocket and passed it over to him. “This make it worthwhile?”

“No, but it’s a start.” He took the sliver, inserted it into the reader he carried under his cloak, and shook his head as if to clear it. “So where are you off to next?” he said.

She allowed him the change in subject. “Furlough. A month of long showers and soft beds, then back here for pick-up duty. You’ll be pleased to know I’m to be stuck on a road gang, part of dear cousin Griffith’s crew.”

His grin returned to normal. “How … fitting.”

It was the same hill.

Marthe’s hand reached up and tugged her hood forward to hide her face. The guards were patrolling nearby. She looked carefully around the circle of Hathians huddling around the miserable fire then lifted her head as slowly as possible to look beyond them and up at the skyline behind. Then took the risk of lifting her head a fraction more to see clearly, following the angles and planes of rock standing up from the wide rolling lands all around her, the solid black outlined against the shifting light of the evening sky. Yes, there was the ridge leading to the top. There, the jagged block of stone standing alone on the flat platform of the summit. And there was that same pile of rocks she’d stumbled over that long-ago night, the night after graduation, banging her toes and setting off the ever-ready laughter in her twin’s eyes as he’d reached out to haul her up to safety.

Her hand reached up now, but it was to pull her hood closer still about her face to hide the memory of a grin that touched her mouth. She’d always hated needing to be helped, the only throwback to her mother’s genes in a family of fair-haired giants, and Bendin knew it. She’d scowled back at him that night, making it quite plain whose foot she wished had stumbled. Jaca had been with them and watched warily, caught too many times in the middle of an asn Castre twin flare up. But Bendin knew when she was really hurt, and this was nothing, said the laughing gleam in his eyes. There was nothing for it but to burst into matching laughter.

“Come on, Mimi,” he’d said impatiently, using her childhood name. He kept his hold on her until she was over the last of the rocks and standing on the summit with the two young men.

Both moons were out that night. The larger Dromorne was already high in the sky, its solid bulk starting to wane. Far off at the edge of the horizon, the smaller sliver of Mathe was caught in its endless struggle to be seen, disappearing against the battling clouds and dying shards of sunlight.

The three of them had stood there in silent awe, for that brief moment at one with the vast wilderness of the high plateau lands. They had been free, that night, as they stood on the flat top and saw their dreams reflected in the vast plateau lands spread out below them—wild, empty and filled with endless possibilities.

She hunched closer to the fire. That was then and this was now. The world had turned in the last four years and she no longer stood free. In this now, her twin’s body lay deep in the soil of the world they all loved—forever young, forever asn Castre, never to change to the an Castre of a married Hathian, never a father, grandfather, grey-haired old curmudgeon. And far across the plains, Jaca played a truly dangerous game.

Nor had the road cut across the plains, scarring the land with its raw newness. On that lost night, there had been no road, no huts … and no Terrans. Yet the night was the same—dark clouds scudding across an unsettled sky and surging waves of movement spreading over the vast tussock plains. The land endured, and for this brief time it was hers. With the wind up, fewer guards patrolled the camp and her small huddle of Hathian workers would be left undisturbed for a while.

She edged closer to the warmth of the fire. She had the information she needed, stored in the thin sliver hidden in the ragged depths of her cloak and, for now, there was no more to be done.

Almost, she smiled. Not the wide, laughing smile of her youth, more an easing of the muscles of her face. For a rare moment, she could pretend she was free as she lingered outside with the other Hathian road workers. Soon, her group would be forced into the huts for the night. But not yet.

She stretched her back slowly, feeling the twinge of newly abused muscles. Three days of carrying stones had awakened muscles she’d forgotten she had. Didn’t the Terrans have any modern construction equipment? Of course they do, came the unbidden retort, but why use machines when you can have the pleasure of watching Hathians toil.

No, don’t think of them. Pretend instead that this is an evening on one of her childhood outings to the high plain. She’d always loved this wild and empty corner of Hathe.

Never had she imagined she would one day live here.

She made the mistake then of looking at her companions, saw engrained in their faces the harsh suffering that had not been there on those long gone evenings. One hand twitched at her outer robe, pulling it tightly around her as if to ward off old memories. It was no use. Memories such as hers were hard to deny. Faces from the past danced in the firelight: funereal faces, crying faces, faces bleak with shock and bewilderment. The face of her brother.

Let me be, she begged.

Not while Terrans rule our home.

A stray beam of moonlight brought her group to the guard’s attention. The Terran strode across, his military bearing unmistakable, then halted and nudged the man beside her with the butt of his weapon. There was no argument, not from any of the Hathians. They rose and moved off towards the confinement of the huts. She stood to go with the rest. The guard watched them and then turned back, his heavy boot scuffing at the dirt to destroy the last, glowing warmth of the fire. Intent upon his actions, he failed to notice her slip away from the others. With a quick farewell sign, Marthe melded into the shadows then disappeared into the ever-moving tussocks and the vast lands beyond.

Griffith an Castre saw his cousin leave but gave no sign of it. To the guards he was only Griff, the big foreman of the work gang. They looked for no more, and he was not about to let them see more. He continued with the rest in their shuffle into the hut. Once inside, he closed the door against the night and their persecutors, glanced once round then gave a tired stretch, his arms reaching upwards as a yawn overcame him. On its way down, one hand grazed the rough wall, leaving behind a thin patch of translucence against the top stud.

He turned, the yawn suddenly stifled, and his weary stoop abandoned.

“We’re safe now.” He jerked his head up at the top corner from where his patch fed a fake Hathian vid through the Terran scanner, blocking the Terrans’ surveillance. Then he threw back his hood. The rest copied him, throwing back their hoods with a newfound eagerness belying the tiredness that lined their faces.

“Did your cousin get safely away?” asked a youth.

Griffith nodded. “Yes, Hanith, and with all your hard-won information for HQ. Marthe tells me those troop movements you saw yesterday will be particularly useful.”

The boy beamed his youthful pleasure.

“She also had some good news. The date for the final assault has been confirmed. All is set for the Zenith of the Pillars of Mathe.”

He heard the ring in his voice echoed in muted cries of joy from all round him. In one corner, a woman sat with tears starting in her eyes. Griffith saw and moved over, his hands clasping hers in comfort. She looked up, hope almost afraid to enter her face.

“Six months only. Is it true?”

“Yes, Lena, it is true. Soon, it will be over.” He stood up, a fierce exultation filling him as his gaze encompassed them all. “Six months only and then we will show these accursed Terrans the truth behind the peasants of Hathe. Come that day, we will wipe them from our world and send them back to their squalid Earth. And then … then, we can go home!”

He stood a moment longer, letting some of the powerful exhilaration that surged through him pass over and fill the rest. Then he signaled for silence, the patch was removed from the surveillance device, and all settled down to sleep, a sleep for once free of despair.

Outside the hut, the night was still plagued with unrest, and black shadows skittered over the ground. Marthe moved slowly, a splash of darkness passing from clump to clump. Suddenly she froze. The tramp of feet approached, a patrolman on his way around the camp perimeter. Closer he came, till he stopped by a large clump of grass to survey the scene then gave a shiver, huddled into his big, heavy coat and continued on. Behind the clump, she let out a silent sigh of relief. As soon as the tramp of feet had died away, she hurried onwards. The last obstacle was behind her.

Moving quickly, she made for the safety of a nearby hollow. Once in the tussocks on the far side, she would be hidden from even the sharpest of human eyes. Then began a long night of hard slogging, clinging to the sides of hills, slithering into the protective cover of the bushes in the sinuous gullies that carved their way into the land and winding her way about the rocks thrusting up through the plain. Always she kept the road near, following its twisting path onwards to the goal they both sought.

It was nearly morning when the grey light of the still hidden sun showed her the jumbled shapes of buildings ahead. In the middle, towering over the surrounding huddle of shacks and closely packed houses, was a huge, white edifice. The Citadel. Home to the Terrans, and her goal.

Not far from the wall enclosing the town, Marthe stopped and curled up in the shelter of a bush. There was time to rest. She pulled the heavy outer wrap closely round her and gave in to the weariness of the long night’s hike. An unforgivably short time had passed before she was rudely woken by the prodding of a boot in her back. She looked up, straight into the face of a Terran soldier.

“What’s this?” snarled a voice in Terran Standard.

Like all Hathians, Marthe had long ago learnt the hated tongue. Even after years on Hathe, few Terrans had bothered to acquire more than a smattering of the local Harmish tongue, rightly surmising that if the natives knew what was good for them, they would soon master their conquerors’ language.

The soldier poked his boot in again, hard. “What are you up to out here, girl? Trying to avoid your assigned duty, unless I’m mistaken.”

Marthe ducked her head, hiding the quick gleam in her eyes. “No, sir, never.”

“Then what? Explain, and make it quick.”

“I was in a foraging party sent out here yesterday, sir, and missed the last gong. The gates had shut before I knew it.”

“Why? Sleeping instead of working, I suppose?” The soldier prodded her upright and looked down in contempt. He was of only average build himself and clearly relished his height advantage.

“Not sleeping, sir. I’d found a jerbel bush and was trying to pick as many berries as possible. The Commander likes them particularly, sir, and I hoped to exchange them for extra supplies for my family.”

“And what happened to all those jerbels?”

“I ate them, sir. I was so hungry last night.”

“So, greedy as well as lazy. We’ll see what the Committee can do about that. Come on, get moving!”

The words were reinforced with a heavy blow to the side of the head. Used to such treatment, Marthe merely shook her head to clear the momentary fuzziness before starting to walk, her shoulders bowed as if in fear. Beneath her hood, her lips twitched in triumph.

Soon they reached the great metal gates of the town. So far, her information was accurate. The only guards she could see were a troop of soldiers lounging carelessly near the outer posts. Her captor hailed the one closest. “Hey, Carl. Take charge of my work group, will you? I found this one skulking outside, too busy last night gorging on jerbels to hear the gong. It’s the Citadel for her, I reckon. Maybe a spell in prison will remind her of her place.” He gave a loud guffaw and shoved her forward.

They continued on, through busy streets crowded with natives and the occasional Terran soldier. Many were the frightened looks cast the pair and not a few shocked glances. At one point she stumbled, falling heavily against a fellow native. The soldier was too busy yelling at her to get up to notice the swift movement of hands as she passed the precious sliver over from the hidden pocket in her robe, or the quick nod of reply from the other Hathian.

Now they came to the last street. Ahead, the houses huddled even closer, seeming to draw back from the fearsome block of the Citadel. No other street led off this, and it was as if she were passing through a tunnel leading inexorably on to the black emptiness of the slowly opening gates beyond. It was the only breach visible in all the vast squareness of the fortress. Nothing else of the outer world was allowed to intrude into this, the center of Terran control on Hathe. Equally, she could not help feeling that, once taken into the Citadel, nothing and nobody would be released lightly from the heavy gates that now shut behind her.

She was in a closed passage, blocked at the far end by another pair of metal doors. The lights came on, and Marthe saw a smaller door opening to one side. She was taken through it, to find herself in an immense triangular courtyard, bereft of natural life but for soldiers and nervous, scurrying natives. In an office, a clerk took down her particulars then tapped his voicecom.

“Sir, we have a native girl on report. Data through to your screen now. What period of punishment and duty assignment? Looks reasonably young and strong, as far as you can ever tell under that shroud of theirs.”

“One year. Major Radcliff mornings, prison kitchen the rest of the day,” came the reply from the Committee.

“Right, sir.” The clerk switched off, then looked up briefly. “Thank you, Sergeant. That will be all for now,” he said, dismissing the guard. Again, he spoke into the voicecom. “Agnethe, to Admin immediately.”

After which, he turned back to his own screen, taking no further notice of Marthe though she now stood unguarded within a hands breadth from him and could have easily killed him. The man had no idea of the skills she had been forced to acquire these last years. Instead, she kept her head down like any sensible native girl who found herself straying into the home of the conquerors.

If only she were free to do otherwise. Marthe had known so many if only moments.

Ten minutes later, a large, native woman bustled in, the hood of her robe slipping from her head to reveal a red-cheeked, smiling face and wisps of unruly, damp hair beginning to grey. “My apologies, sir. I was busy checking this evening’s meal for the officers when you called, and it needed a few of my own touches. These ignorant peasants know nothing of a gentleman’s palate, but I, who served in the kitchens of Councilor Bodmin, understand these things. Not that that degenerate would have noticed,” she added hastily.

“Enough of your prattle, Agnethe. If the Commander was not so attached to your cooking, that tongue of yours would’ve had you banned to the mines years ago. You’re to show this new girl her duties. She’s to clean for Major Radcliff in the mornings and work in the prison kitchens the rest of the day.” With which he turned back to his work and took no further notice of them.

“Come on, dear, this way,” said the matronly woman, hurrying Marthe out the door. “What’s your name, now, and how did you end up in this godforsaken place?” she asked as soon as they were out of the clerk’s hearing.

“Riarda, please ma’am,” came the timid reply. The woman may be one of her own, with an innate likeability, but Marthe’s briefings had not included this woman’s security clearance level, and she was not about to trust her with her real name. “I fell asleep and missed the shutting of the gates yesterday evening. I also ate a bag of jerbels that I’d gathered to sell to the Terrans.”

“Is that all? I remember feasts of best bortch, with jerbels scattered everywhere. Now we get imprisoned for a few! But times are what they are. Come along, don’t dawdle, and call me Agnethe. Everyone else does.”

Marthe followed her obediently, attempting to make sense of the maze of intersecting corridors and halls. Soon they passed into a new area and through a security door that was bland enough in appearance, but harsh experience had left her with a wary sixth sense for such entrances. It hit her now, the hidden surveillance screens setting off a fine humming throughout her body.

Beyond it, the building changed. The corridors widened and the feeling of being in a prison was no longer present. This must be the Terrans’ accommodation quarters.

“Major Radcliff’s rooms are along here,” said Agnethe, waving to a doorway. “A word of warning. The Terran may be only a major, but watch him. He’s the head of Special Services and from a powerful Earth family, I am told. He is also, I might add, very particular over the state of his room and will bawl you out properly if your work is not up to standard. But please him and he’s been known to be extraordinarily kind—especially to a young lady like you,” added Agnethe with a chuckle. Then she became serious again. “One more thing. He speaks Harmish, though Mathe knows why he ever bothered with learning it. He’s a strange one, he is—very keen on asking questions, so you be careful.”

She threw open a door as she finished speaking, ushering Marthe into a service cupboard. Then the woman opened the door on the far side of the small room and Marthe entered a whole new world. They were in an apartment, but this was like no place she had seen in all the long and miserable years since the Terrans first landed. This place was beautiful, filled with light, air and comfort. She could only stand and gape, taking it all in. The resistance’s bare plans of the Citadel gave no hint of this reality.

A profusion of plants graced the room in front of her, particularly on the small balcony at the far end and, beyond it, she could see the second of the Citadel’s great courtyards. It was as unlike the barren oppression of the first yard as the character of the girl Riarda was to her own true nature. She walked forward as if in a daze, needing to see more of this miracle. The courtyard flourished with trees and flowers in kaleidoscopic abundance. The sound of water played from numerous fountains and shaded walks meandered through garden beds.

Agnethe’s voice broke into the girl’s bemused entrancement, following close behind her. “It may look lovely but remember we cannot appreciate it. We lack the quality of taste, so I’m told,” she warned dryly. “Staff enter through the service door only.”

She went on to explain Marthe’s duties, leading her through the elegant rooms. Marthe was silent, a properly cowed and frightened detainee. At one point only did she interrupt. They were entering the bedroom, Agnethe instructing her in the precise ordering of the room, when Marthe happened to glance up. She gasped, eyes opening wide in recognition. Agnethe looked across sharply then saw what had startled her. Above the sleeper hung a painting of a house, a very beautiful house. It was not a Terran house. Agnethe had seen Marthe’s shocked recognition. The older woman’s hand came down on her shoulder, to all intents guiding her fussily onwards. In reality, the fingers bit into her skin. Marthe acknowledged the warning with a humble down casting of eyes.

“A pretty enough picture,” remarked Agnethe. “One of the filthy Lieger’s City houses. The Major has an interest in such relics, though why he keeps this particular one here is beyond me.”

She guided Marthe onwards, talking of duties again. Marthe listened with half an ear only, unable to stop from giving the picture a last, quick glance as she left the bedroom. She had recognized the house of a certainty, every single, wondrous line of it. Her warning hum was back and at full magnitude.

It was with a sense of relief that she followed Agnethe back to the native section of the Citadel, almost welcoming its grimness. Here, she was put to work preparing the prisoners’ evening meal, leaving no time to spare for thoughts of the beautiful apartment with its disturbing painting.

Later that night, she managed to catch a free minute, sitting down in a quiet corner of the large dining room beside a fellow native. The breeches sticking out from under the customary cloak proclaimed him to be male, but his face was hidden by his hood. The man shuffled along to give her room, in the process separating them even more from the few native staff still clearing up, then dipped his head close to hers. Both kept their voices low.

“So you made it, little Mimi? And what huge crime did you commit to be sent here?” It was the voice of a young man, a hint of laughter breaking through despite the surroundings.

“Nothing really, and don’t call me Mimi. No one has called me that since school, apart from Bendin when he was trying to be particularly annoying. I’m to be known here as Riarda, even by our own people, so just you remember it, Jaca.” Beneath her hood, she could feel her mouth twitching and there was no longer even a hint of submission in her voice.

“Does no one dare to tease the mighty Madame Marthe asn Castre?” he retorted, chuckling shamelessly at her hasty warning hush then throwing up his hands in apology. “All right then, what’s your news? This area is shielded so we’re safe from their eavesdropping but stick to Harmish. No point in making things easy for the Terrans.”

“No, it is not” she very pointedly agreed. “You got my last transmission?”

“Telling me you’d met with your cousin Griffith? Yes. I assume he had all the deployments you sought, in clearest detail, right down to the color of each Terran’s eyes?”

“Not quite, but close to it. And with very strict instructions for their passage.” She laughed herself, though still quietly. “I don’t think cousin Griffith will ever approve of me.”

“By the Pillars, may he not! Life wouldn’t be half as much fun.”

“Thank you, I think. Though even I have to admit that his reports are excellent. Full visuals of weapon types, training procedures and detailed specifications on numbers of soldiers and their armaments. I passed it on as I came through town. Better still, his was the last group of troops to be surveyed. We’ve now all we need.”

“If that’s so, why were we sent here? All I’ve been told is to familiarize myself with the Terran staff.”

“It seems a few of their senior officers are still suspicious of us. We’re to study them and report back to the Council. Here’s the list,” and she beat out a staccato of coded taps with her fingertips on the clear communications patch on his wrist, a match to the one she wore on her own. “All their leaders are based here. We need to find out if there are any senior officers who might take action against us. If so, the plan will have to be modified. Whatever happens, though, the Council has confirmed that all is set for the coming Zenith. Or so Father told me a few days ago.”

Jaca dropped his head suddenly, and then raised it to look directly at her for the first time. She caught the faint shine of wetness tipping his lashes and took his hand, squeezing it as she nodded in affirmation. He dropped his head again, but not before she saw a fierce relief seize him. She allowed him a moment then touched his hand again.

A shudder passed over him, as if at the throwing back of a blanket. “I thought you’d been off planet recently,” he said with determined lightness. “You smell a little too sweet to have been long dirt side.”

She took the hint. To speak too openly of the hope they had all clung to so long was more than most could bear. She gave him a minute to recover, then copied his nonchalance, wrinkled her nose and said teasingly: “Unlike certain other people I might mention who are certainly overdue for furlough.”

A disgusted snort was his only reply. She ignored it and continued with her report. “I arrived here yesterday, fell asleep outside town and was found this morning by a Terran sergeant. He was ready to book me for anything, but just to be certain I told him I’d been eating jerbels.”

“You’re allergic to the things.”

“I know that, but the sergeant didn’t, did he? It got me in here anyway. I’m assigned to the prison kitchen, with mornings spent cleaning for a Major Radcliff. Our people really came through there. He was top of our list—Special Services head; and now I learn that he speaks Harmish. Definitely a man in need of study.”


Jaca’s head had shot up and she saw, with surprise, his suddenly pale face and grim mouth. “What is it, Jaca?”

“I wish you’d been assigned to anyone but that man.”

“But he’s ideal for our purposes. I hadn’t dared to hope we could get so close to such a priority target.”

“Maybe. All I can say is that if he so much as harms one hair of your head, I’ll have him. In the few days I’ve been here, I’ve heard more than enough about him. Where women are concerned, he’s trouble.”

Marthe stared. “What are you on about? I can look after myself. I’ve done so for these past four years and more, and rather successfully, I might add.”

Her argument did not impress Jaca. “Radcliff is no good,” he growled. “I’d back you in a physical fight any day, but that man won’t use his fists against you. Sheer, galling charm is his favored weapon, and he uses it only too well. You keep that hood in place. And remember, he and his kind are responsible for the deaths of many of our people, your brother included.”

“That had better not mean what it sounds like. You forget, I was there when they brought in Bendin’s body.”

“All I know is, Radcliff’s dangerous. You’ve got your com patch safely hidden?”

She nodded silently, her anger gone as quickly as it had come. She could hear the worry in Jaca’s voice. She huddled closer to him, seeking comfort. He relented at that and his arm came around her and pulled her in for a short, hard hug.“Look after yourself, little Mimi,” he said, softly squeezing her hand as he rose to leave. The gong sounded just then for the beginning of the night rest period. Agnethe had stressed that all natives must be inside the large dormitories before they were locked for the night. All about her, others bustled past, hurrying round her silent, withdrawn figure.

“Riarda, girl, move,” Agnethe called as she passed. “You’ll miss out on a bed if you don’t hurry. There are never enough.”

As it turned out, the warning proved true and Marthe spent the night huddled on a cold floor, prey to a thousand thoughts.

Chapter Two

Hamon Radcliff scowled at the man coming down the corridor towards him. Colonel Johne! As if this night weren’t bad enough already. There was no way to avoid a meeting, and right now he couldn’t afford to alienate his commanding officer more than necessary. Why must the man be down here now? This late in the evening, it should be safe to leave the gym unseen.

“Evening, Major,” said the commander, coming up to him and running a knowing eye over his junior officer.

“Colonel.” He gave the required salute then moved off. Not quickly enough to miss the smirk on the older man’s face. He knew its cause. The normal fitness regime compulsory for all members of the Terran forces occupying Hathe did not leave a man dripping with sweat and gaunt from exhaustion. Radcliff might resent the Colonel, but he didn’t underestimate his intelligence. A long-term career soldier, Johne would know exactly why his head of Special Services sought escape in exercising to the point of near collapse.

There were only two things either of them had ever agreed upon: Hamon’s forced conscription from his rule-free and independent civilian life to this posting on Hathe was a thoroughly undesirable change to the life of both men; and neither of them could do a thing about it. Radcliff was too well connected back home for Johne to touch, and Hamon was barred by an inconvenient sense of duty from organizing a release from his commission. What he did here was vital to the survival of Earth. The urgonium mined only on Hathe was their principal energy source, and Earth needed more of it very badly. Nor was there anyone else with his particular mix of skills and experience who could take his place. That was not a boast—rather, a cold-blooded assessment of fact that he wished with every particle of his being was not true.

But brooding could not distract him from the scream of abused muscles as he entered his quarters. He was so tired he must surely be able to sleep tonight. The briefest cycle of the cleanser was all he managed before throwing himself onto his sleeper … only to spend yet another night tossing restlessly, prey to a thousand thoughts.

Now another day had begun. A beam of sunlight splashed through the long windows of the apartment, shimmering off the water droplets still clinging to the plants on the small balcony then falling in lazy patterns on the large, cube chairs dominating the inner room.

Hamon stared morosely at the beautiful room, seeking some kind of ease in the familiar spaces. He had made of these rooms a refuge, the one place in this military fortress he must now inhabit that felt like home. With the dividing wall drawn back, he could look out from his secluded seat in the bedroom to the main room beyond, and past that to the freedom of the sky. It was why he had chosen these rooms for his own

Despite the air of comfort, there was a sparse feel to the apartment. An outdoorsman at heart, he’d insisted the services team minimized the constraints of walls, floor and ceiling to the barest noticeable. Simple shapes and a pale wash of near white, broken only by a profusion of plants. In the bedroom, the sole furniture was the chair he sat in and a sleeper of subtly shifting translucence. The room held a single embellishment—a painting. It hung above the sleeper and showed a house of flowing lines and soft colors. A spire climbed to the sky while at the base a tide of tropical plants clung to the walls, doors and balconies. A beautiful home, but Hamon could not pretend it belonged here. Despite the presence of Hathian plants, his apartment was undoubtedly Terran. The house in the painting was not.

This morning, as always, it drew his eyes. He stood, paced a couple of times around the room then once again slumped into the chair, to stare at the painting on the far wall. The building’s clean lines only fed the fires within as memories crowded him mercilessly. He thumped down on the corner of his chair and leaped up to resume his pacing.

All the while, his gaze remained glued to the house as yet again he was thrust back in time to when he’d first seen it. Before Earth had invaded Hathe.

It had been a home then, filled with a constant procession of smiling faces. The visitors had included the most senior members of the planetary administration, coming to call on the good Dr Sylvan an Castre, a member of the Hathian Council and a scientist known throughout the Alliance for his work on interplanetary communication systems.

Others had come too. Younger faces, their voices calling merrily through the beams and spires. The doctor had a son, well-liked by all, he remembered sourly, and two daughters, each unique in her own way. Both women had followed their father into the world of science: the elder in his own sphere while the younger was said to be destined for an illustrious career in the world of medicine. They were also very beautiful. His mouth twisted to a skewed smile. Many of the young men who came to visit their lively brother, twin to the second of the sisters, had stayed to chat with the lovely young women of the an Castre family.

He could see them still. Images bright with the sharpness of carved crystal. The elder sister had been blessed with the sea grey eyes of an ocean in repose—slow to anger and with a rock-deep sense of enduring strength.

Then there was the younger.

Ah, yes, the younger of the asn Castre daughters. A mountain brook was how he always saw her. Small and slender, with brown eyes alive with the ever-changing currents of a stream breaking on rocks or slipping into silent mystery under root shrouded banks—a small enigma in a family of tall guardians.

He grimaced. He, too, had wanted to meet the sisters. Particularly the younger.

Very badly.

His hands clenched as memory played back. His wants had counted for nothing in that long-lost world. The brother made sure of that. The young man had already crossed paths with Hamon, and not to Bendin asn Castre’s advantage. A small smile of satisfaction creased Hamon’s mouth, but only for an instant. Too soon afterwards, he remembered, the Hathian had repaid Hamon fully and in kind.

Marthe asn Castre was like no woman Hamon had ever seen, before or since, and he had dared to seek an introduction. Someone had warned Hamon beforehand of the close bond between the asn Castre twins, but he’d thought nothing of it until he came face to face with the full fury of an enraged brother. What followed had not been pleasant or civilized and had ended in his summary ejection from the an Castre home. Terran scum was not worthy of a Hathian lady, Hamon had been informed as the doors of the house slammed in his face.

Looking back on his deeds of the past few years, Hamon was forced to concede that the arrogant Hathian may just have been right, but it made little difference. One day, he would make Bendin asn Castre and the rest pay for the humiliation of that trip.

What had become of them all? Was she still asn Castre? Or married and become an Castre? A sudden clench of denial at the thought of her with another, and he glared at the picture. The beautiful home, once so full of life, had been ugly with the decay of desertion when next he saw it immediately after the conquest. It was protected from the attentions of his troops by the same deadly radiation that cloaked all the buildings of the people who had once ruled this planet: the Liegers, as the natives named them or the Haut Liege as they had termed themselves—the ruling class that had now so inexplicably disappeared, taking with them the secret of extracting the precious urgonium.

Earth could mine it, but only in quantities laughably short of what they needed. Urgonium, the rarest and most valuable mineral in the universe. The most efficient source of energy known in all the Alliance and found only on Hathe. Earth needed it, couldn’t survive without it, and Hathe refused to give them more. So they came to take it…and look what they found.

All that remained now of this world’s once vibrant society were empty shells and dull wretches—the peasants of Hathe, claiming to be only too glad to see the back of the Liegers who had treated them little better than serfs. Life under the Terrans was lenient in comparison. Or so the natives claimed.

Hamon shook his head and thumped the chair again. It wasn’t true. Over and over, the refrain jangled in his head. He may have only visited here once before the conquest, but he would have sworn it was not a society built on cruelty. Yes, he’d seen servants in the mansions of the ruling group. Proud and free people they had been, efficient organizers of the household routine, not frightened drudges like the native housemaid now scuttling in through his service door. Something was terribly wrong. All of a sudden, he felt as if he and his complacent fellow Terrans were sitting on a time bomb set to explode right in their faces.

He rose and stalked through to the lounge. Ignoring the heavily shrouded maid, he stared broodingly at his vidscreen. At the moment, it was set to the view of the native courtyard, crowded at this time of day with scurrying Hathians

Those damn peasants. Ignorant, foul smelling, subservient. But try to get some answers from them, and you could almost see the mask falling beneath the hood of that all concealing outer wrap of theirs. The blasted thing was more effective than any wall in creating an impenetrable barrier to these people.

And underneath… He remembered some of the women he’d used to assuage the awful loneliness and isolation of this place. Some may not have been too bad, he thought, if he were less fastidious. Cleanliness was not a priority of the Hathian peasant. And the hair of the women! Custom dictated greasy, tightly woven coils, covered by a ragged cap which added nothing to the wearer’s desirability. Thinking of those encounters, he grimaced in self-disgust. What was this world, this job making of him? A thing he could only despise? And whether he could live with himself afterwards was something he refused to consider.

His mouth twisted. At least he would live, unlike the millions of Terrans back on Earth if he failed in his duty.

And the women he used to help him survive here—used being the only word that fit what he did with them? For all his contrived charm, he learned nothing from them, regardless of the tears they wept as he rid himself of yet another failure in a long line of unproductive encumbrances. They swore of love and passion but refused to drop the mask drawn over life before the Terrans. All he had ever won for his troubles were trite and tired clichés. Those Liegers, they would sneer.

Stars! Maybe they really were the unfeeling clods his fellow Terrans believed them to be and he should give up this stupid quest for truth. What did he care? But he did, and knew he could not avoid it. If he was right and failed to prove it in time, all of Earth would pay in lost lives and misery.

So, he returned to it again. The dilemma that was driving him in ever maddening circles. He must try to find out what lay behind the hoods and the veiled eyes of Hathe. Starting with the subject in front of him—probably to as little use as usual, he admitted heavily, and eyed the maidservant dubiously.

She was new. Despite the concealing robes, he knew she was not the same maid that usually came. The frequency of changes to his cleaning staff was one of the things that made him most suspicious. He stalked back into the room, determined to break open that cursed façade of theirs.

Settling himself into one of the large chairs, one leg draped over the side, he gazed in apparent disinterest at the girl. He waited in silence, like a spectator at a play, noting each small twitch or jerk of his victim. He kept up the unmoving scrutiny for half an hour, deliberately creating an air of edgy expectancy in the room. The girl had become a challenge for him, a do or die last attempt. This time, he would not be beaten and watched as she meticulously cleaned each small speck from the spotless floor.

He noticed she avoided his one Earth plant. Its presence on Hathe contravened every biosecurity law in known space, but he had brought it regardless. He needed it. A piece of home to remind him why he was here. And he found the reaction of the Hathians to it very instructive. This girl appeared to be unaffected by it, ignoring it and carrying on regardless, but yet no part of her ever touched its shining green leaves.

“There’s more dust over there, girl. Behind the far seat.”As intended, his sudden words after the tense silence reverberated through the room. Her hand froze, but then she deliberately steadied herself. Steady, then walked across to clean the pristine area. He increased the tension.

“While you’re there, the plant leaves should be polished every day,” he drawled in the most officious tone he could summon.

This time, the woman’s whole body showed an infinitesimal stiffening, but still she bent to the assigned task. She left the Terran plant till last, hesitating fractionally as she approached it. As if she must force herself to obey him. Not as calm as she tried to appear, then, he guessed, and he allowed a nasty smile to spread over his face. This might be interesting.

He’d read his victim better than he could have guessed. So that is the way it is to be, thought Marthe angrily. Two can play that game, Terran.

She had been discreetly studying her target since he’d marched so cavalierly into the room. Why he chose to watch her working, she couldn’t imagine, but she again checked the escape routes she’d identified on her first visit with Agnethe. Jaca may think she could best the Terran if it came to a struggle, but now she’d seen him, she wasn’t so sure. The man was tall and lean, with a breadth of shoulder suggesting strength, and the easy balance in his gait was that of a trained fighter. It was possible she could take him, but only by using the kind of deadly tricks not usually known by a cowed and beaten Hathian maidservant. Her cover would be blown as soon as she tried any of them. No, the only hope she had lay in Jaca’s words of warning. Charm was this man’s weapon of choice. His guile against hers. So be it, Terran. She bent to rearrange the objects on a side table as per his latest, meaningless command, turning her head slightly as she did so in order to observe his face.

He scowled at her, eyes closely tracking her movements, and she was suddenly grateful for the concealing hood of her outer robe that hid her face from his scrutiny. In the feared Terran uniform and with his dark hair, deep earth-green eyes and sun-darkened skin, there was an air of real menace about the man. The downward twist of his mouth only added to it.

Yet a smile would have softened that hard face.

Her hand jerked, touching a small, translucent globe, a perfect circle of light caught in stone. It nearly toppled, saved only by a quick recovery of her hand that made the movement look deliberate, and she turned carefully to wait his next order, head bowed in submission and innards churning. Where had that thought come from?

He snapped the next command and she obeyed thankfully. She had herself in hand again but was ever more wary with each ridiculous command. Wary and rather angry at this game the Terran chose to inflict on her. She fought back in the only way possible, and each increasingly humiliating order was obeyed with an unchanging blandness of demeanor. I will outlast you, Terran. Hamon watched her in stony calm, his bored voice pronouncing his demands. Inwardly, he was fuming. This one was either particularly thick-skinned or far cleverer than any native he had yet come across. He stood, and quietly walked to a spot just behind her. She was carefully wiping an imaginary speck from the wall. His hand rose to twitch away the enshrouding headgear. Too late. Like a startled deer, she had sensed his movement and whirled out of reach, ducking her head. Her hands clutched at her wrists, fingers tapping a nervous staccato on her pulse.

“You require something, sir?”

“Yes, blast you. I require that you take off that stupid hood,” he snapped, angered at being caught out. “Come here and see how generous a Terran can be to a friendly young woman.” He softened his voice, let it deepen seductively, but at the same time his hand reached out to grab her arm as she sidled away. He held her still, not hard enough to hurt, but firmly enough to let her know she was going nowhere. “Stand still. You’ve had your little game. Now we play by my rules.”

She kept her face turned away as he drew back the hood from her head. Then paused. Something was not right. Here was the common cloth cap, dull grey this time and jammed down right over her ears. It was dirty enough, but his fingers felt drawn to touch all the same. She flinched back, but his hands were strong. He caught both her wrists in one hand, holding her tightly as the fingers of his other hand confirmed what his eyes suspected. He gripped the cap and tugged it back from her hair.

He stopped, shocked into stillness. What exactly he had suspected, he knew not. It wasn’t this. Here was no greasy, odorous mess. His hand resumed its motion with a mesmerizing slowness, releasing a cascade of rich, nugget brown waves, shining with the lights of sun and earth. As the cap slid farther back, he reached out in wonder. A wordless gasp escaped him as his hand lightly caressed the tantalizing strands. Gently, oh so gently, he reached to tilt her chin round, eager to see the face beneath this unique halo.

There was a cough from behind him and the spell was broken. He turned to blast the intruder. It was a mistake. Swift as the Hathian loeth, the girl was fleeing out the nearby service way. He whirled to stop her. Too late. All he caught was the sliding of the door and a stray lock of hair peeping from beneath its imprisoning hood. Eyes blazing, he turned on the native responsible. It was a young man, desperately bowing in appeasement.

Hamon’s temper snapped. “What is it? And do not ever again come in like that! Sneaking around like the currish lot you are.” Head still down, no answer came. “Well, come on, you’ve done your damage. What was so important that you should interrupt me at such a moment?”

“My deepest apologies, sir. Please, I did not mean… I did not know. She’s only a native girl, sir.”

Goaded by disappointment into a rare need for violence, Hamon silenced the man with a crashing blow. Stumbling, the Hathian rose again, bowing low to soften any further blows. “The Colonel is an important man, sir, and he told me to bring you immediately. Please, sir?”

Temper ratcheted to a dangerous level by the edge of guilt at his action, Hamon felt a twinge of relief at the excuse to leave. Beating up Hathian peasants, no matter how irritating, was one thing he had till now resisted. What could his blasted commander want? He had no choice but to answer the summons and marched out, fully intending to continue his study of the strange native girl in the very near future. He could feel it, that twitch that said he was on the verge of finally learning something.

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