fief-doms is the reason Iceheart wants to see me. Xucphra had displaced Zaltin in the recent coup and installed Ysanne Isard as the world's leader. Most of the Zaltin folks had fled or been killed, making the Xucphra family the sole masters of a world they had long shared. As such they had no desire to listen to or comply with the orders of an offworlder like him. Even so, they were so thoroughly socialized to accept a hierarchy of command, that they would complain about him to Isard, another offworlder. It made no sense to Vorru, and in this lack of comprehension he felt fortunate. The day I start thinking like my charges is the day I choose to die.

Rounding a corner, Vorru strode past the desk of Isard's secretary, refusing to allow himself to be distracted by her spare costume. That is a pleasure I will save myself for solace after Iceheart is through with me. The secretary, a woman whose long black hair covered more than her clothes, smiled at him, but made no attempt to stop him or even announce him.

The Imperial Royal Guards flanking the doorway to Isard's office did not react to him at all, which reinforced the pity Vorru felt for them. Unlike everyone else on the planet, they still wore the uniforms they brought with them from Imperial Center. A thick scarlet cloak covered the red armor and though no puddles formed at their feet, Vorru knew they had to be roasting inside it. Even more burdensome to them, though, had to have been the orders to relent and not treat everyone like a potential assassin. The Thyferrans reacted badly to the strict security Isard's Royal Guard imposed initially, so she has orderd her bodyguard to relaxsomething that will probably require gene therapy before they feel at ease doing it.

As he entered Isard's office, he immediately

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