The President is dead.
The outer colonies are in revolt.
One man will make himself Emperor.
The Commonwealth must stop him…or fall.
In the chaos after the death of President Barnes and the revelation of his betrayals, Brad Madrid has been imprisoned because of his relationship to the pirate known as the Phoenix. His relationship takes on a new edge when the Phoenix declares himself Lord Protector of the Outer Worlds—the unquestioned dictator of a nation born to wage war against the Commonwealth.
Released from his prison and drafted into the Commonwealth Navy, Brad is sent out to wage war against his last living relative. As his own home, Jupiter, tries to step aside from the conflict, he finds himself with a sparse list of allies—and facing a far more powerful enemy than he’d ever feared.
The Phoenix promised that he would be Emperor. As years of hidden work comes to fruition, Brad isn’t sure he can stop him. He only knows one thing: brothers or not, he will defy the Phoenix to his last dying breath!
The underlying assumption of house arrest was that the person being arrested had a house to keep them in.
Since Commodore Brad Madrid normally lived aboard the mercenary destroyer Oath of Vengeance, a warship that spent most of her time around Jupiter, placing him under house arrest on Earth had caused the Agency—the primary intelligence organization of the Commonwealth—at least one headache.
His sympathy for their problems was limited. The Agency was one of his employers, but the decision to arrest him had been one of paranoia, not of cause.
And keeping him in house arrest on Earth sucked. The dark-haired mercenary leaned into the soft fabric of the lounger on the house veranda with a groan. The Agency had decided to lock him up in a safehouse on a Mexican island. From what he could tell, the covert operations organization owned the entire island, which made it perfectly secure.
Brad had been born in space and spent almost his entire life aboard ships and space stations. He regularly worked out in full gravity, but the vast majority of human spacecraft kept their gravity at seventy percent of Earth’s.
Living in full gravity was very different from working out in it. Even if he’d wanted to run, he wouldn’t have made it very far—and that was ignoring the polite-but-cold sentries who guarded the property or the tracking implant in his left shoulder.
The sun and beach were nice, he supposed. It had taken him a week of angry muttering to even begin to appreciate them, but he’d been trapped on Earth for a month now.
A month in which he’d had access to news but not communications. The entire Solar System was reeling from the consequences of his visit to Earth. The President of the Commonwealth had been revealed as a traitor and then shot down by his own allies in the courtyard of the United Nations building.
Brad had been there for all of it. Had been the man to stand on the floor of the Commonwealth Senate and accuse President Mills of trying to create a war to allow himself to seize power.
And as a reward for that, he’d been arrested. Placed in “protective custody” because the Agency had run a genetic analysis and discovered that President Mills’s main ally, the pirate warlord known variously as Jack Mader or the Phoenix, was Brad’s brother.
Brad wasn’t even sure how that was possible. Certainly, he’d never worked with Mader—quite the opposite, they’d been on the opposite side of a covert war for years.
Brad looked up with a sigh at the speaker. Lieutenant Florencio Araya was the Mexican Army officer the Agency had arranged to act as his jailkeeper. Araya was a squat and broad-shouldered man with sun-darkened skin, quite unlike anything Brad had encountered in space.
Outside of their hair color, the two men couldn’t be more opposite. Brad was tall and slim, his skin pale from a lifetime under artificial lights.
“Yes, Lieutenant?” Brad asked. Araya might be his jailer, but the man was polite and helpful for all that.
“I think you need to see the news,” the Lieutenant told him. “There’s an announcement coming out of Oberon.”
“Oberon?” Brad repeated. He had history with that particular moon of Uranus but he still couldn’t see why an announcement from Oberon would make the news on Earth.
“Why would the news here be carrying an announcement from Oberon?”
“Dinero, Commodore,” he told him. “Someone paid them to. Seems odd…and Oberon is out near your home, isn’t it?”
Brad chuckled at the naïve lack of knowledge inherent in calling a moon of Uranus “near” to his homeport at Io, a moon of Jupiter.
“More relevant than here, I guess.” His chuckled died and he nodded. “May as well take a look. The beach isn’t going anywhere, after all.”
The house might have looked like a colonial beach home from another century, but it had state-of-the-art everything. Including, of course, state-of-the-art security and enough controls over data flow to allow Brad to access incoming news feeds but not send out communication.
Since they’d taken Brad’s wrist-comp, the ubiquitous personal computer of the Solar System, away, he needed those systems to stay sane.
They got inside in time to see the screen on the interior wall showing the promised announcement. The camera feed from the reporter passed through the garish doors of the meeting chamber of First Oberon’s Council of Speakers as Brad took a careful seat. Those familiar doors were a huge bronze affair with mosaics of the original Council on them.
All of that Council were probably dead now. Outer-world politics were brutal.
The inside of the chamber, however, was almost empty. Brad had seen the wide horseshoe-shaped table and the garish paint and velvet curtains before. Instead of the seven-person Council of Speakers, though, there was a single man sitting in the middle of the table.
There appeared to only be the single camera, but it was enough for Brad to recognize that there were also a lot fewer guards than there had been when he’d met the Council of Speakers—and that the three apparently decorative women in the room were a far better security force than the dozen guards the Council had retained.
Once the camera reached the center of the table, Brad finally recognized the figure with a sigh. Knowing what to look for now, he could see the family resemblance. Jack Mader was slightly taller than he was but just as slim, and they had identical black hair and dark eyes.
“Greetings,” Mader told the camera. “I’m sure some of those watching have met me by one name or another; my life has been a complicated one.
“Let’s begin by laying out the simplest point: my name is Jack Mantruso and I am the Admiral of the Independence Militia. My organization, funded by several of the Outer World colonies as well as allies on Earth, has spent the last few years opposing Commonwealth oppression out here.”
He shook his head sadly.
“I did not want to be the man who broke humanity,” he continued, his voice dripping sincerity and regret.
Brad wanted to reach through the screen and strangle his supposed brother. He’d been born Brad Mantruso himself, and the concept of them being brothers might have occurred to one of them sooner if either of them had used their actual last name. Not that it would have changed where they ended up, but it would have avoided the surprise, at least.
“With the murder of President Mills and the ongoing coup on Earth, the governments and councils of the Outer Worlds no longer feel that they can trust the Commonwealth. They no longer feel that the Fleet will protect them from the pirates and slavers we have struggled with for so long.
“And they feel that we can no longer bow to a government more kilometers away than we can even comprehend.”
Mantruso shook his head.
“No transition of this scale is easy and we do not expect Earth to calmly permit us to leave, but it falls to me to announce the formation of the Outer Worlds Alliance and our secession—our true and inevitable independence—from the Commonwealth of Earth.”
He let those words hang on the video for several seconds.
“To secure the safety of this new nation, I have agreed to bring the Independence Militia in from the cold, so to speak. We will now become the Outer Worlds Navy…and I have, with both regret and great sobriety, accepted the position of Lord Protector of the Outer Worlds Alliance.
“I have been charged to protect these stations and settlements that will no longer kneel to the tyranny of Earth. I will not fail in this charge, no matter the cost. No matter the sacrifice.
“We are free, and I am entirely willing to water this tree of liberty with the blood of any damned patriots who’d change that.”