STAR WARS THE LAST WORD Scorpio Lightless slept. The fiery hearts of her twin sublight engines smoldered a dim blue as they pushed her ever so gently through space, far above the swirling storms of Hespherex V and deep below the black, light-pierced blanket of the Peligian Gulf. The ultrasleek starship slid through the void like liquid metal, and her stealth subroutines and cloaking technology made her all but invisible to the galaxy, a durasteel ghost between the stars. "Two system patrol craft approaching." The electronic, disembodied voice of Scorpio Lightless's AI jolted her captain awake. By the time he'd come to a fully conscious understanding of where he was and what was happening, he'd already pulled the handgun at his hip halfway from its holster, and every fiber of muscle in his arm was primed to finish the draw and pull the trigger. He relaxed his grip and slid the weapon home as he slumped back into his chair. "Vectors?" he requested, clearing the sleep from his throat. The AI, in her feminine, educated Core Worlder's accent, chattered off a string of numbers and directions that amounted to exact positions, speeds, and orientations. Rubbing his temples with one hand, the captain cut her off and pulled up a holographic, three dimensional map of the system. The Scorpio's scanners, updating the graphic in real time, tracked two small icons across the map. "Fuck," he growled, rubbing his eyes. He'd forgotten to adjust virtual copilot's alert settings before falling asleep. The patrol craft, two Yzhikov-class heavy fighters, were on course to pass the Scorpio Lightless eighteen kilometers out, blissfully unaware of her presence. He dismissed the holographic map with a wave of his hand. "Venus, can I get a cup of caf?" he asked. ‘Venus;' his take on VNAS, Virtual Navigation Assistance System. "Brewing. Three minutes to completion. The patrol craft?" she asked. "Disengage – no, set course for Oracle-3, drop cloak, ping the patrol, open a line with Sedulga, request docking permissions. In that order," the captain answered as he made his way to the mess. By the time he returned to the helm of his ship, caf in hand, Sedulga was on screen. "Kaivr Thane," the dug addressed him with a sneer, "our scanners did not detect your ship exiting hyperspace." "Vigo Sedulga," Kaivr replied, bowing deeply. "I see you're in good health." The dug, who sat on what seemed to be a lavish throne of a chair, was not in good health but was very fond of deference. An avaricious glutton, the only thing on Oracle-3 fatter than Sedulga's wallet was Sedulga himself. The dug dressed in fine, brightly colored silks to disguise what Kaivr imagined was an unhealthy figure. "Do I have your permission to dock?" "Permission granted. One of my associates will receive you when you land," Sedulga answered with a scowl. The comm line went down, and the dug's image vanished. "Does he know who you are?" Venus asked. "He absolutely does," Kaivr replied, sliding into his captain's seat. He sipped the hot caf as Oracle-3, the asteroid station that served as home to a half million souls, grew larger in the Scorpio Lightless's viewport. "He's the one who asked me to stop by."