Chapter 5

After being taken back to her room to freshen up, Traci was surprised to meet Michael and Agron on the way to the feasting hall. She inquired of their general health, and was surprised when Michael said they were both unharmed. She noticed a bruise on his cheek that told otherwise, but said nothing.

Kendahl and an honor guard accompanied them to the large doors of the hall, which were already open in preparation for their arrival. Inside was a massive room with a very high ceiling, in fact so high that Traci would have thought it belonged to the sky. In long rows, tables were already laden with food. The amount of food was simply staggering. As they walked down one row of tables, they saw dish after dish being fussed over by stewards and cooks and cooks’ helpers. It likely took over a hundred strides to reach the far end of the row, where a small, formal dining table sat, silverware and plates gleaming. Geron stood as they approached.

“Welcome, my friends,” he called. “What you see before you are the dishes from a thousand worlds. All of them have been prepared by my own chefs, or cooks from the native worlds, if the dish is a complex one. Every dish here has come from a world within my dominion. There are so many, I have not yet tried the half of them.”

The display of largess made Traci want to vomit. As Geron led the way, they selected samples from various dishes and sat down to dine.

“I hope you find something you like,” Geron said with mirth. He was carving into some unrecognizable dish. Traci placed some meats and eggs on her own plate, alongside what she hoped were vegetables. One strange fruit was fuzzy with a multicolored husk. She cracked it open to find a light and sweet sauce inside. Michael also looked at the food in disbelief. This amount of food could easily have fed a large city, perhaps for days.

In total, there were twelve of them at the table, including Geron’s senior staff. Michael noted that there was an entire marine brigade standing at attention along the walls, the brasswork on their uniforms polished to perfection.

As they progressed through the meal with small talk, Traci felt it was time the mouse began to probe the cat. She set down her utensils.

“My Lord Geron, where is the First Marshal?” she asked politely.

Geron looked up from of the small quadruped he was eating and wiped his face with a napkin. “Admiral Pearson has been slotted into my navy. As Captain Kendahl has no doubt informed you, there is no more Orion as a national entity. Those found worthy have been integrated into the dominion in tasks that serve its greater good.”

“Is that what is to happen to us--are we to be integrated as well?”

Geron stopped chewing and sat back, surveying her. He smiled and looked back and forth at his other officers. “Would you like to be?” he asked.

“What I would like,” Traci sharply retorted, “is to be returned to my ship.”

Michael recognized that she was done playing the game and that something was about to happen. He carefully concealed a carving knife under his napkin in anticipation. Agron continued to eat quietly, saying nothing.

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