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The Wages of Justice
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ISBN-10: 1-89484-101-8
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction
eBook Length: 300 Pages
Published: November 2001



From inside the flap

DREAM REALM AWARD WINNER 2001 Edited by a master writer; Piers Anthony! No one sane wants either of the two most powerful positions on the planet Nublis. Emperor and archon, supreme judge, are slaves to 3,000 years of tradition. The emperor can abdicate. Only death can free the archon. But the planet of Nublis is rich and the ripe plum desired by a pirate who would be king. Can those who have pledged their lives to serve their world save their world? This incredible collection of books is composed of three trilogies: Nublian Chronicles I - The Julian Trilogy The Wages of Justice The Wages of Sin The Wages of Greed Nublian Chronicles II - The Felix Trilogy


Reviews and Awards

DREAM REALM AWARD WINNER 2001

'The Wages of Justice' is the third book I have read by Saundby. This competent and talented writer always has a hidden moral message, but so well sugar-coated that the lesson is painless. I can honestly recommend this entertaining book to anyone.

By Dr. Bob Rich

Murder trials, palace intrigue, and space battles add up to making THE WAGES OF JUSTICE an exciting read. And, as an added incentive, entwined around the sturdy action plot like a silver garland round a Douglas fir, is a delicately-handled fantasia of mysticism, which appears without warning but without disruption, adding depth to the characters and to the world that Kate Saundby has created and invites us to visit. Best of all, Saundby can write: her style is fast-paced but not rushed, clear but not barren, and distinctive in a genre where inbreeding oftentimes results in felonious cliche. That more than tips the scales for me.

-- Ellen Larson


THE WAGES OF JUSTICE: THE ARCHONS OF NUBLIS
Kate Saundby
Double Dragon eBooks, 2000
CDROM, 183 pages
ISBN# 1-894841-01-8


This was my first eBook and though I agree with the idea of eBooks, I did find getting started reading a new format to be a bit daunting--but it isn?t hard once you get past the idea of doing something different. The best part about eBooks is that you can take so many with you when you travel [or, you can sneak one into work and maybe not get caught reading while on the job--try this only at your own risk!].

THE WAGES OF JUSTICE: THE ARCHONS OF NUBLIS is Volume 1 of the Nublis Series, Part 1 of the Wages Trilogy--but it reads well as a stand-alone. In fact, it reads quite well. I?m drawn to court intrigue stories because I like the setting, but am often disappointed by a heavy drag through boringsville. Not so this book. THE ARCHONS OF NUBLIS is fast, fun, and easy to read. Author Saundby does a great job of combining wonderful world-building, great characterization, and an interesting plot with fast moving action. It is a well balanced page-turner and one I highly recommend.

The setting is especially intriguing. In the Fifth Millennium, Earth is now known as Aretz and there are so many worlds colonized that an Interplanetary Synod Assembly has been developed to help keep the peace. But not all is well in the Assembly. Corruption is running rampant and the only place in the universe where a man can get a fair trial is on the distant world of Nublis in the Alpha Centauri System. The Archon is their Chief Judge, also known as the Dark Emperor of Nublis. The man chosen for this position is masked and unknown to the populace "to insure his incorruptibility." He lives as a prisoner and is kept on drugs to enable a mystic connection to his omniscient (dead) predecessors--drugs that significantly shorten his lifespan. Such are the wages of justice: for the Archon is truly a "living lie detector."

One of the prisoners brought before the Archon then executed by him was the son of a high ranking official from Aretz (Earth), and now that man is using money to back pirates on an invasion of the peaceful world of Nublis. The visible Emperor of Nublis (brother to the Archon) has assassins coming at him and his family from outside Nublis and from the greedy within his own court. His enemies are close . . . but who are they?

I adored the characterization and interpersonal relationships in this book, so must go find other works by this same author!


KC Heath

The Wages of Justice (Excerpt)


THE WAGES OF JUSTICE

Prologue

"All rise for His Grace, the Archon!"


In total blackness and not sure which way to face, Cassius signed, "Where are you?"


Finally came the majordomo's reassuring touch. As the majordomo guided Cassius' gloved hands toward the silver hammer and the golden knife that were the symbols of his office, the voice sounded again. "Be seated! The archon's court is now in session!"


The movements and breathing of those already present and the snick of the lock on the witness room door were the only sounds he heard. A whisper, instantly hushed, was followed by a faint click from a guard's weapon. He'd evidently turned to frown in the direction of the offender.


Blindfolded as always when he presided over the court, Cassius saw the prosecutor and advocate for the accused in his mind's eye. They'd be waiting nervously at their respective tables, and behind them, two rows of spectators, knowing better than to cough or even fidget. At the rear of the lofty oak-paneled courtroom, a pair of motionless blue-armored sentinels maintained order and guarded the immense brass-plated doors.


The scent of fear polluting the already breathless air just below his throne could only be the defendant's.


Understandable, reflected Cassius. His demeanor had to be terrifying at the best of times. This was not the best of times.



When he saw the faceless apparition loom above him on the archon's throne, the knees of the accused turned to water. The printed guidelines given him by his advocate rustled in his sweaty hands and nothing in his twenty-seven years had prepared him for this.


With his entire face and head concealed by a close-fitting silken mask and clad in plain gray robes of some soft wool material, the archon must have been close to eight feet tall. When he moved his hands to sign to his scarlet-robed majordomo, the massive emerald on his gloved left forefinger seemed to emit an eerie light of its own.


On that fateful night, while they were all still drinking in the tavern, Damon Veniston's companions had described Nublis' mysterious archon as a living lie detector. He'd just laughed and dismissed their gibbering as empty bar talk. Then he'd noticed the girl in the corner and, attracted by her quiet good looks, had instantly homed in on her. They'd left the tavern together and the rest was history.


Now, alone in the arena and dependent on this anonymous judge's fabled instinct for the truth, his friends' warnings didn't seem quite so funny.


What if they were right?


Damon pulled himself together. Behind the forbidding mask and all that folderol breathed an ordinary man. As for his supposed super-hearing, that was a laugh. A superstitious Nublian might fall for such theatrics but he was hardly that. Damon hadn't been raised by the most successful jurist in the InterPlanetary Synod for nothing, and he could recognize a number when he saw one.


When that old fussbudget of an advocate told him he'd have to do all his own talking in court, the young man just grinned. He'd weaseled his way out of tighter spots than this, although right now, he couldn't think of a single one. His gift of gab and natural charm had never failed him yet, and in the unlikely event he was convicted, what were these people going to do to him anyway? His father was the InterPlanetary's Synod's Chief Justice and if push came to shove, Dad would just have to buy him out of it again. With his money and connections, Augustus Veniston could find anyone's price and the nonentities in charge of this piddling little backwater planet would be no exception. Take that weasel-faced prosecutor for instance, in his threadbare robe and down-at-heel shoes. The man looked as if he'd never had a decent haircut or two extra cents to rub together and this so-called advocate they'd given him was a joke. By his own admission, the man didn't even know what a plea bargain was, and when Damon asked how much he was going to charge, the old goat looked blank.


So he'd squeezed the bitch's throat a little too hard. Big deal! She'd only been a streetwalker and around this city, such whores were a dime a dozen. All he had to do now was convince this archon, or judge or whatever he was, that it had been a regrettable accident. Of course, he'd have to say it with a convincing break in his voice. Hell, he might even manage a tear. Ah, now he had it! The woman's heart had been weak. Had he known, he would never have gotten so rough with her, but she hadn't told him. She'd done just the opposite and actually egged him on. He was an innocent babe in the woods and all the kinky suggestions had come from her.


Damon stopped for a moment, rehearsing his new defense and trying it on for size. It might just work. The way he'd tell it, that little prostitute been so hot for his money she'd have done just about anything. Actually, it hadn't been that way at all. But who was to know? The girl was safely dead, and he could slant his story any way he wanted.


Her eyes wide with fear, she'd actually ordered him to leave. "I've changed my mind," she'd said.


Turned on by her resistance, he'd just laughed. "Well, I haven't!" Then he'd proceeded to show her who was boss. While she fought like a wildcat, it was only when she bit him that he really saw red. The nerve of her! She'd drawn blood too! He was perfectly justified in doing what he did next, but he'd no more intended to kill her than he had any of the others. All he wanted was to teach her a lesson. She resisted and he'd squeezed a little too hard.


Fortunately, they'd been alone. The four walls in her tacky little house weren't going to talk and now it was just his word about the rough sex. That was the way it had always gone before and who was going to contradict him now? Certainly not a dead whore.


The more Damon considered his argument the better he liked it and now he was sure he could make the sale. But in the unlikely event this masked judge didn't buy his story, there'd still be plenty of time to straighten things out. Wouldn't there?


True, they'd brought him to trial much faster than he'd expected. In a matter of days, to be precise. Anywhere else, there'd have been the usual months of preparation, endless press coverage, and an inevitable public airing of the victim's dirty linen. With his baby face and disingenuous manner, he'd have garnered plenty of public sympathy for being led astray by a loose woman. Especially when he lowered his curly blond head and promised tearfully, with all the sincerity he could muster, to mend his wandering ways. But when he'd suggested that, the stupid advocate hadn't seemed to understand.


Damon's boyish features and gentle manner had served him well in the past and his angelic appearance had swayed more than one verdict in his favor. But on Nublis, it seemed they took the concept of blind justice literally. The advocate told him the archon had no idea who he was and wouldn't even be able to see his face. Damon had been hoping to make an impression with his innocent demeanor and good looks, and that had been a blow.


Now he'd come up with a decent defense, he felt more confident. He looked toward his advocate for reassurance but the man's expression was grim. As the arresting officer came forward to testify, Damon cleared his throat. He checked the instructions on the sheet and prepared for his first question.



On the throne above Damon, the archon leaned forward slightly. As the afternoon wore on and he listened to the accused's pleasant tenor voice reel off one lie after another about the woman he'd killed, a blackness descended on Cassius' spirit. Whoever he was, the man was not a native Nublian, though he spoke the language well. To distract himself from his depression, Cassius tried to place the accent. Andromedan perhaps? No. That planet's language was much too harsh. With those soft syllables and inflections, he had to have come from much further out.


Then he had it. Aretz, of course. In pre-colonization days, the beautiful blue planet had been known as Terra or Earth. Even now in the Fifth Millennium, the natives still called the place by its old name. A fabled citadel of learning and the cradle of modern civilization, Aretz lay a full week's journey from Nublis in the Alpha Centauri system. In addition to the finest medical and law schools in the universe, Aretz's ancient capital, Parisia, was home to the InterPlanetary Synod's Assembly as well as its High Courts. The Trade League, an all-powerful private intergalactic association of wealthy merchants and shippers, also had its headquarters there


When they'd been in their twenties, Cassius and his brother Julian had spent some of their happiest days as law students in Parisia. Like the imperial princes they were, rich, arrogant and heedless, they'd lived life to the fullest, expecting those golden days to last forever. One day, they'd ended, in the blink of an eye.


As the newly designated archon, Cassius' first official duty had been to preside over his own funeral. When Julian attempted to give his brother's eulogy and then broke down, he'd had no way of knowing that the very one he mourned so bitterly stood less than six feet away from him. With his face hidden behind the archon's silken mask and forbidden to speak, Cassius had matched every tear with one of his own, and to this day, his brother had no idea he still lived.


Unless this accused Aretzan managed to come up with a miracle, he'd become a ghost soon enough, and pitying the prisoner's hapless advocate, Cassius imagined the smile on the prosecutor's face.


When the trial ended four hours later, Damon simply stood there numb. The archon ordered his shackles removed and he was conducted to a stone-walled room far larger than the cell he'd been in before. The amenities included a polished wooden table, a pair of matching chairs, an interactive viewscreen, a rug on the floor and a full bathroom. And the window was a real window, albeit barred.


As soon as they were alone, Damon took the advocate by the shoulders. "He can't just condemn me like that! What do you mean, there's no appeal? There has to be!"


The old man gently disengaged himself. "As I've been trying to explain, this is Nublis. Here the punishment is matched to the crime and what you heard is what shall happen. Now, is there anything I can get for you?"


"My father-"


"Left Aretz a week ago. He should be here first thing in the morning."


Damon shivered with relief. Whoof! Talk about a wake-up call! His drinking buddies had been right. These people didn't screw around.


When the archon handed down that ridiculous sentence, he'd almost lost it, but not quite. Knowing his father, the wheels must already be in motion. As the Synod's Chief Justice, Augustus Veniston's calls were always returned. If his ship was anywhere within calling range, he was probably straightening out the Nublian emperor and his masked judge right now. One of his hired flunkies should be turning up anytime to hold Damon's hand, and by noon tomorrow, they should be on their way home.


Anticipating the verbal flaying he was about to get, the young man winced. This time, he resolved he would neither defend himself nor argue. Having honestly learned his lesson, he'd swallow whatever the old man chose to dish out. He'd even marry that whey-faced debutante his Ma was so taken with if that's what it took to make up for all the times he'd hassled them. After that, he would meekly put his nose to the family grindstone and never ever go near those fleshpots again.


Well, almost never, but next time, he'd be a damn sight more careful.


It sure as hell wouldn't be on Nublis again. No matter what kind of a deal Dad worked out, the Nublians would be throwing him off this planet for good, which was perfectly all right with Damon. If he never saw this miserable backwater again it would be too soon.


Seeing the poor old advocate was taking the archon's verdict so hard, he decided to be gracious. As he set his battered briefcase on the table, the man's thin hands were shaking and his red-rimmed eyes looked sadder than a hound dog's. One thing about him and the prosecutor puzzled Damon. Everywhere else in the Synod, the lawyers were rich. Here on Nublis, they seemed to be poor and he wondered why.


Flashing his perfect teeth, he favored the pitiful creature with his most winning smile. "I know you did your best, sir, and I appreciate your concern. Tell me, do they have anything decent to eat in this joint?"


The graybeard's relief was almost pitiful. "You're certainly taking this better than I'd expected. The commissary's food is excellent, and they're open around the clock. Order anything you like. If they don't have it on hand, they'll get it for you. After all, it is going to be your last meal."


Even though he was certain that last remark would prove to be untrue, Damon couldn't quite shake his unease. Out of sheer mischief, he decided to test the man's patience. After reflecting for a minute, he proceeded to reel off a lengthy list of the most outrageous, expensive and exotic delicacies he could think of. Including honey marinated roast duck, sweet scallops from Seira's southern oceans, purple Kestor root in ginger sauce, the tiny pickled fish of Lodebar and a large bowl of authentic Illyrian sheepherder stew.


As he'd hoped, the advocate blanched slightly. "Well, er, some of that's a little unusual. Let me see what I can do."


Damon hid his smile with difficulty. "Take your time. The night's still young and I sure as hell ain't goin' anywhere."


Somewhat to his surprise, he got everything he asked for. Including the out-of-season golden strawberries and Aeolian squids' eyes. In jig time too. A couple of hours later, he sat ruminating over a rare Siriun liqueur extracted from Diantha blossoms when the cell door opened.


Somewhere in his mid-thirties and taller than average, the visitor's appearance surprised him. With his silver-threaded dark curls, aquiline features and aristocratic bearing, this man was a definite cut above Augustus Veniston's usual hirelings. Was he a local nobleman down on his luck, perhaps?


His dark eyes brimming with intelligence and humor, the newcomer extended his hand. Damon ignored the gesture. "It took you long enough to get here. The advocate left hours ago and I certainly expected you before this."


Nothing loath, the visitor set his gold-trimmed briefcase on the table. Like everything else about him, Damon noted it was of the first quality. "May I sit?" As the young man nodded, the visitor cast an eye over the half-filled dishes. "Was dinner not to your liking?"


"Er, I wasn't as hungry as I thought."


"Mmm. Is there anything else I can get for you?"


"Just your company. I'm sick of talking to the walls but listening to that doom-and-gloom advocate was worse than being alone."


The Nublian smiled. "Master Ludlow's not noted for his sense of humor."


"Or his sparkling repartee. Tell me, are you actually a native of this penny-ante backwater?"


"Nublian, born and bred. I'll admit we're a bit out of the way, but I have done some traveling here and there."


"Well, then, what's with this mysterious archon and that scarlet fancy-dress majordomo of his? Surely, they can't be serious. I mean there has to be an appeal or something."


The visitor frowned slightly. "Nublis' legal system was established over a thousand years ago and the archon is our chief judge. To ensure his incorruptibility, his identity remains a mystery by law. Blindfolded when he presides over the court, he knows nothing of the circumstances or background of any case before him. Only after he's rendered his verdict, does he learn the identity of the accused and the circumstances leading to the trial. Other than that, he has no contact with the outside world and he never speaks. Save for the emperor Julian, his assistant the majordomo is the only living person who ever sees the archon's face. Some say he's over a thousand years old and others speculate that he belongs to a different species. Who he really is is anyone's guess."


Damon was intrigued. "He's a prisoner?


The visitor shrugged. "Perhaps. No one really knows." He tapped his wrist communicator. "Since it's going to be a long night, how about a fresh bottle of brandy and another glass?"


Damon didn't care much for history lessons but the Nublian's stories about his native planet fascinated him. As they talked through the night, he found himself telling things to the older man that he'd never said to anyone else. Self-absorbed as always, he never once thought to ask his companion's name, nor did he notice that he was the only one drinking.


When bars of color began to lighten the star-filled sky outside the barred window, Damon stretched and yawned. "Dad should be here soon."


Snapping open his briefcase, the visitor took out a knotted cord and a set of handcuffs.


Damon's blue eyes widened. "You do work for my father, don't you?"


"Whatever gave you that idea?"


"But I thought... say, who in the hell are you? And what d'ju put in that ber-brer-brandy?"


"Just a sedative to make your passing easier."


Head heavy and his legs leaden, Damon staggered to his feet. Catching him in his arms, the visitor eased him onto the bunk. He flipped him onto his face, and held him there with one knee.


Damon struggled weakly.


With an ease born of long practice, his captor cuffed the young man's wrists behind his back.


"But who...?"


"You still don't know?"


"I never saw you before in my life."


"Oh, yes, you have. Outside the emperor and my majordomo, you're the only living soul to behold my face."


Tears soaking into the mattress and his slim body quivering, Damon's voice was very small. "P-please!"


His dark eyes solemn now, the archon's slender fingers caressed the golden curls. "No matter how horrendous the crime, a death sentence should be mercifully swift. But we Nublians consider execution by a faceless stranger to be totally barbaric. Just as the midwife eases a soul's painful entry into the world, so must her counterpart lovingly assist that same spirit on its terrifying journey back from whence it came. Such a deeply personal transition shouldn't be endured alone and here on Nublis, it never is. As is my custom with all those I've condemned to die, I came to keep you company during your final hours."


"N-no-o!"


"Hush now! Surrender to the drug's embrace and let it take you into the dark."


Kneeling above his subject, the archon waited. As the prisoner sank into sleep, his breathing slowed and deepened. The archon sensed his nerves uncoil and his muscles relax, and only when he was certain Damon Veniston had moved beyond all caring, did he give him the ritual kiss and slip the knotted cord around his throat.


When the deed was done, he removed the cuffs and cord. Turning the young man's body over, he covered the discolored face with a blanket. Snapping the briefcase shut, he picked it up along with the extra brandy glass. After glancing round the room to make sure he hadn't overlooked anything, he took a control from his pocket and aimed it at the wall next to the bunk. A stone section pivoted to reveal a lighted passageway, which he entered without a backward glance.


The wall closed again as the prisoner's father entered the cell.