Part 1: Nuncio

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When they removed the bag from his head and Monk could see again, he found himself staring into a gun barrel. The face behind it belonged to a man whose easy familiarity with the weapon suggested he had killed before, and would not hesitate to kill again, if Monk did or said the slightest thing wrong.

The room was long and narrow, with curved walls unadorned by any window except at the end, where the view was of a grim lunar landscape of grey rock and black sky. The Sun's unrelenting glare cast pitch-black shadows over the flat, crater-pocked plain. Above the horizon hung the disc of the Earth.

The man with the gun moved aside and Monk could now see two other people. One was a tall, lanky man with a shock of black hair that rose in a tangled mop above his head. He was sitting behind a desk, with both feet planted on it, one crossed over the other. Beside him, sitting just as casually, one arm flung over the back of her chair, was a short blonde woman dressed in military fatigues. She glared at Monk with an unmistakable mixture of hatred and disgust. But since he was a Helot he was used to that from people.

'Out,' said the man, and the guard with the gun stepped away and left by the only visible door.

'The guard will remain outside,' continued the man. 'If you leave without permission he will kill you.'

'I understand.'

So this was Stefan Rix. Of course that wasn't his real name. He was obviously from the Moon: that gaunt frame, that superior height, would be remarkable on Earth, but here it was merely unusual. As for the woman, she wasn't a lunar native. Although he could not be certain, he suspected she was Nancy Jong—again not a real name—and Monk knew why Rix felt confident enough to dispense with the armed guard. Nancy Jong's reputation had earned her arrest warrants on most planets and moons in the solar system.

Rix touched a contact on the desk and a file opened on the holovision screen in front of him. He scanned the document for a minute, but no doubt he'd already read it many times. Theatrics were apparently not lost on him. He looked up at Monk and smiled. Monk wished he hadn't.

'I will continue to call you Monk, since that nickname appears in all the records associated with you. Your training will prove most useful. The Elite regard you as an intelligent person and your academic results are most satisfactory.'

'Thank you.'

Monk was the only Helot to have a university degree of any kind, especially such a valuable one as Void ship engineering. Even though as a slave he'd never actually been to a real university—that would be too much to expect—his qualifications were just as valid.

'We can proceed with the rest of the plan.'

'With all my heart.' He made the sign of the Broken Circle over his chest.

The two Sapes behind the desk glanced at each other. Nancy Jong's scowl deepened, if that were possible. Rix remained with that cruel smile on his face but his eyebrows rose up to hide themselves under the thatch of unruly hair for a moment.

'It would be better, perhaps,' Rix said, 'if you keep any personal attachment out of consideration.'

'Personal attachment?'

As soon as he'd said the words, Monk knew what the Sape meant, and regretted having said them so as to appear foolish. The Broken Circle betrayed his training among the Shamah, the terrorist cell on Earth where he'd been trained in insurgency. These people would know little about the cell, but apparently could recognise the doctrines and liturgies that were part of its tenets.

'I assure you, I no longer have any personal attachment to the Shamah or its leader,' he added quickly. 'It was...mere habit.'

'There's more to this than you realise, Monk. I trust you. The other Sapes I work with do too.' He nodded at the woman, who didn't move or take her eyes of Monk. 'But no Sape you meet when you reach the Shepherd Moon will trust you. To them you'll be just another slave. Be watchful. Be careful. Open your eyes and your ears.'

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