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Wages of Deception
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ISBN-10: 1-89484-129-8
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction
eBook Length: 147 Pages
Published: March 2002

From inside the flap

Book 3 of the Felix Trilogy. Wages of Deception takes place in the future, during a time when a new emperor is about to be crowned and take a new bride. He decides to take one last "fling" and switches places with his rogue half brother; resulting in surprises for both and the new bride to be!


Wages of Deception (Excerpt)



Chapter 1-A Reunion and a Farewell




Hathor Ben Levi summoned Justin to his private office in his sprawling marble mansion in the Ursi keepís foreign compound. Six years had passed since his young partnerís failure to transform as the other males did and the Ursiís spring festival had just ended.

As always, Justin had become quiet and withdrawn. Hathor knew he would remain that way until the last of the Ursi males had left for the upper pastures. Motioning him to a chair, the merchant frowned at a document on his desk. ?We?ve got a problem,? he said.

Justin thought over their multitude of transactions during the past few days but could think of no brush fire he?d failed to put out. Knowing Hathor, however, he remained silent.

The merchant continued to read for a while. Then he looked up. ?You have to go to Eos right away.?

?Eos? But I just--?

??came from there. I know. But this has to be resolved in person. Unfortunately, I have to be in Giulliam tomorrow. Otherwise, I?d go myself.?

?What about Hassan??

?I need him in Giulliam. This is an exceedingly delicate matter and you?re the only person I can trust not to screw it up.?

íSounds serious.?

?It is. Hereís your itinerary and the necessary information. Saritaís made your reservations. I?ll meet you by the flyer in fifteen minutes.?

Justin had never seen Hathor this agitated before. In fact, he?d never seen him agitated, period. ?Whatís going on??

To his surprise, the merchantís normally cool expression was sympathetic. ?You?ll understand when you get there. You?re not leaving from the spaceport, by the way. Emperor Timothyís lent me one of his private cruisers. Itís waiting at the military base.? He handed Justin a fat envelope. ?Wear dark glasses, keep your hair covered and use cash. Your cover name is Sandor Fell.?

While this wouldn?t be the first time Justin had represented Hathor in a clandestine transaction it was certainly the strangest. Knowing better than to ask questions, he took the envelope. Then he had a thought. íShould I wear my robes??

?Better not. Don?t open this until you?re in transit. Once you?ve read the instructions burn them.?

Ouch, thought Justin. This sounds bad.

However, when he got to his private cabin on the waiting starship he found the promised instructions to be nothing more than an ordinary banking transaction that could have been handled in less than five minutes on his computer. He inserted the accompanying chip into his portable reader and was startled by Hathorís voice.

?When you arrive on Eos look for a driver with a sign reading ?Fell.? He?ll take you where you need to go. Don?t speak to anyone, don?t use your communicator and, above all, don?t call me. The cruiser will wait at the spaceport for your return. Destroy this immediately. If anyone asks you your business tell them you?re visiting a sick aunt.?

Traveling with Hathor Ben Levi and his son Hassan around the Interplanetary Synod, Justin had become a skilled trade representative and negotiator in his own right, and one of the merchantís most valued employees. He and the fun-loving Hassan, always the best of friends, spent many a roistering night after their dayís work was done in the various glittering cities on their crowded itinerary.

Each spring they?d return to the Ursi keep in the mountain kingdom of Phasga to regale the wide-eyed cubs with even more outrageous yarns than the year before, then spend a pleasant summer in the foreign compoundís comfortable surroundings.

Unlike the other Ursi males, Justin had hung around the foreign compoundís sprawling stables since his early childhood. To pass the time and keep his mind off certain things, he began to diligently search the Interplanetary SynoNet for the finest equine specimens he could find then add them to his small but select collection. Thanks to his motherís share of the tribeís enormous red diamond wealth, money was no object. If he saw an animal he wanted he bought it, even if it meant bidding the price up to a level that the most reluctant seller could no longer resist.

As the years passed he became a skilful rider and increasingly fascinated with his mounts? provenance and history. No mean horseman himself, Hathor was at first amused, then intrigued by the young manís interest. Recognizing Justinís desperate need for distraction after his banishment from the tribe the canny merchant began actively encouraging the SynoNet forays, even going so far as to personally contact the Emperor of Seira on Justinís behalf.

Emperor Timothyís racehorses were legendary. At Hathorís suggestion, and knowing something of Justinís history, His Majesty introduced the young man to Count Felix de Morel, the enigmatic and socially reclusive owner of the magnificent breeding farm on the planet Aretz from which most of his own horses had come. Having been raised among the Ursi, Justin shared their almost mystical bond with the animal kingdom, and it was a fact that horses responded to him in the most extraordinary way. Even the normally reticent Count de Morel commented on it. As Timothy expected, the two men hit it off instantly. When the Count invited them to act as his exclusive sales and purchasing agent throughout the Interplanetary Synod, Justin and Hathor soon had themselves another well-satisfied customer.

As long as he had to go to Eos anyway, Justin reflected, there was that young stallion he?d been wanting to get a closer look at. The horseís picture on the SynoNet was inconclusive, and it would be interesting to know if those unusual lines were real or just a trick of the photographerís art. If they were actually real?. The problem was Emperor Timothy had an equally sharp eye and he shopped the SynoNet as much as Justin did.

Hopefully this other business wouldn?t take too long. Otherwise, Timothy would get there first. Ah, well, he thought, the sooner I get this over with, the sooner I can get back to more important things. Then he put it firmly out of his mind.

Looking neither to the right nor the left on his arrival, Justin wended his way through the Eos spaceportís teeming concourse, searching the crowd for the promised sign. Ah, there it was. When he reached the waiting driver he said, ?I hear the swallows were late this year.?

With a nod, the driver took Justinís overnight bag, then led the way to a waiting transport. Instead of opening the back door as Justin expected he motioned toward the front passenger seat. Once they?d left the spaceportís traffic behind, he removed his dark glasses and glanced at Justin with a smile. ?We can talk now.?

To say Justin was stunned would be putting it mildly. ?Father? But how?? Why?? Whereís Mother??

The former Emperor of Nublis glanced over his shoulder. Seeing no one behind them, he appeared to relax. ?Waiting for us.?

?Why the cloak-and-dagger??

?Your mother will explain.?

It had been a year since Linnea publicly announced to the Ursi tribe during the autumn homecoming that she was in love with an outsider. After formally banishing her, the Council of Senior Mothers elected Justinís twin sister Guri to be the Ursi Supreme Chief. Early the following morning before anyone else was awake, Jesseís flyer landed on the emerald lawn outside the keepís main mansion. Within minutes it took off again.

Whenever they happened to be in the same city Justin would join his parents for dinner and regale them with news of Guri, her amiable mate Ostein and their growing family of cubs. Their delight in the holos he brought them was deeply touching, as was the sadness in Linneaís eyes whenever he spoke of the keep.

Jesse never mentioned his legitimate son, who now occupied the Nublian imperial throne. Nor did he speak of his late Empress, who?d died the year before his abdication-some said from a broken heart.

During Justinís subsequent visits to the gleaming white imperial palace in Nublisís capital, Cyrenia, Emperor Julian Corwyn the Second, otherwise known as Carey, never mentioned their father--it was obvious their relations were strained.

Did this secret summons have something to do with Carey? he wondered.

After again glancing over his shoulder as if to make sure no one was following, Jesse turned off the highway and onto a narrow, winding, tree-shaded lane. ?An old friend has loaned us his country house but we can?t stay long.?

Justin frowned. ?Are you running away from something??

He saw his fatherís jaw tighten. ?Yes.?

?Does this have to do with Carey??

?In a way.? When a pair of elaborately curlicued iron gates loomed in front of the vehicle Jesse touched a button on the dash and they slowly creaked open. ?You?ll stay the night, I hope.?

?Of course. But why all the mystery??

Jesse said nothing further until they drew up to the house. A graceful stucco structure roofed with red clay tiles, it obviously had an owner with money who knew how to use it.

Linnea awaited them on the shaded porch. When Justin emerged from the transport her face lit up with welcome, but she didn?t run to meet him as was her normal wont. When Justin started to take his bag out of the backseat, his father shook his head. He?d donned his dark glasses and chauffeurís cap and motioned Justin toward the house. As a chauffeur would, he carried the bag to the porch and set it down. Then he respectfully touched the brim of his cap and returned to the transport.

Watching Jesse drive away, Justin frowned. ?Whereís he going??

?To the garage. He?ll be back when itís dark.?

Almost fearfully, Linnea looked around in the same way Jesse had. Picking up Justinís bag, she led the way into the house. Only after she?d closed the front door did she turn and embrace him. As he kissed her in return Justin saw tears on her face. ?Mama, what it is it??

She pointed. ?Letís go inside and I?ll tell you. Teaís waiting and I got some of your favorite cakes.?

Sinking into one of the living roomís comfortable couches, Justin suddenly realized how tired he was. While Linnea busied herself with the tea, he momentarily closed his eyes.

?You didn?t sleep on the ship??

Opening his eyes again, Justin took the proffered cup. As he sipped, the honey-laced tea felt good on his parched throat. ?I seldom do on overnight business trips. Especially when they?re as cloak-and-dagger as this.?

His mother flushed, then she bit her lip. Her own cup began rattling against its saucer and she set it down. ?I?m sorry about that. I want to tell you but don?t know where to begin.?

He sighed. ?Try the beginning. Obviously you and Dad are in some kind of trouble.?

?We are.?

?Is someone after you??

She nodded.

?Who??

?N--Nublian Intelligence.?

Justin couldn?t believe his ears. ?What??

?Well, n--not officially. But some of their agents?.?

?Why??

?They want to arrest me for murder and try me before the Archon. Or worse.?

Thinking about Nublisís much-feared, mysterious chief justice, Justin drew in a sharp breath. ?Carey wouldn?t?.?

?Carey has nothing to do with this.?

?Then why doesn?t he stop it??

?H--he c--can?t. Jesse says heís been refusing to sign the warrant, b--but even he c--can?t d--delay things much longer. In the meantime?.?

Now, Justin understood the charade at the spaceport. ?...the agents are coming after you on their own. Why, mother? What did you do??

Linnea drew in a deep breath. ?It happened right after my first banishment from the tribe--before you and Guri were born. Hathor took me with him on his travels. Disguised as a man, I acted as his security guard. We were in Cyrenia. Jesse was about to be crowned Emperor and I didn?t know he was looking for me.?

?Go on.?

?One night I was supposed to go out to dinner with Hathor and some clients. When I got sick to my stomach, I suddenly realized I was pregnant. Hathor realized it too and told me to stay home. Thinking we were gone, three Nublian Intelligence agents broke into our hotel suite. They w--wore masks and at first I thought they were thieves. After th--they got the drop on me and said something about chemical interrogation, I--I?.?

?Ginunngagapís Law,? murmured Justin.

?You do understand! Unfortunately, Nublian Intelligence doesn?t.?

?Does Jesse??

?Yes. Af--after I explained it. If I?d known they were looking for me I would never have?. How did you know??

?How could I not know? Guriís my twin and we used to tell each other everything. Before she went before the Senior Motherís Council for her test she practiced her transformation in front of me.? He gave a bitter laugh. ?I was mightily impressed.?

Linnea was obviously shocked. ?An Ursi female is never supposed to--?

?Unless thereís a direct threat to her or her young. You killed those agents to protect Guri and me, didn?t you? Thatís self-defense!?

?I know. But if their colleagues catch me they?ve said they?re not taking any chances on an acquittal. Jesse says I won?t live to stand trial.?

?I see.? Justin thought about his fatherís former bodyguard and closest confidant. ?Where does the major stand in all this??

?He--heís persuaded Carey to delay signing the warrant. Before that he looked the other way long enough to allow your father to escape.?

?Mmm.? Justin gave Linnea a sharp look. ?Obviously, you have a plan.?

She sighed. ?Thereís a new colony forming in the Sargasso Triangle beyond the Arc of the Sun. Because your father and I have certain skills the colonists couldn?t care less about our history. Itís all arranged. One of Emperor Timothyís cruisers is waiting in orbit and you and Jesse look alike enough to be twins.?

?That takes care of him. What about you??

?The gardener here is my size and heís due to go into town tomorrow. I?ll be driving his truck and he?ll be hidden in the back.?

?And??

?I?ll be wearing a Seiran imperial fleet uniform under my clothes. My papers are in order and I?ll go on board with the rest of the crew.?

?What about me??

?Disguised as you, Jesse will have left his briefcase on your back seat. After you find it, you?ll race through the concourse, hasten up the dock after him and into the ship.?

?They?re here, aren?t they??

?Thatís why we can?t stay.?

?What makes you think you can fool them? Those guys are good.?

It was Linneaís turn to sigh. ?I know. Thatís why we can never see or communicate with either of you again.? Her eyes filled with tears. ?Tell Guri?.?

Pulling her toward him, Justin took his mother in his arms. Gently, he wiped her tear-streaked face with his handkerchief then he stroked her hair. ?Guri will understand.?