Something was nudging me awake. I swatted at it. "Die," I said.

"Zoe," Hickory said. "You have a visitor."

I blinked up at Hickory, who was framed as a silhouette by the light coming from the corridor. "What are you talking about?" I said.

"General Gau," Hickory said. "He is here. Now. And wishes to speak to you."

I sat up. "You have got to be kidding me," I said. I picked up my PDA and looked at the time.

We had arrived in Conclave space fourteen hours earlier, popping into existence a thousand klicks out from the space station that General Gau had made the administrative headquarters of the Conclave. He said he hadn't wanted to favor one planet over another. The space station was ringed with hundreds of ships from all over Conclave space, and even more shuttles and cargo transports, going between ships and back and forth from the station. Phoenix Station, the largest human space station and so big I've heard that it actually affected tides on the planet Phoenix (by amounts measurable only by sensitive instruments, but still), would have fit into a corner of the Conclave HQ.

We had arrived and announced ourselves and sent an encrypted message to General Gau requesting an audience. We had been given parking coordinates and then willfully ignored. After ten hours of that, I finally went to sleep.

"You know I do not kid," Hickory said. It walked back to the doorway and turned up the lights in my stateroom. I winced. "Now, please," Hickory said. "Come to meet him."

Five minutes later I was dressed in something I hoped would be presentable and walking somewhat unsteadily down the corridor. After a minute of walking I said, "Oh, crap," and ran back to my stateroom, leaving Hickory standing in the corridor. A minute later I was back, bearing a shirt with something wrapped in it.

"What is that?" Hickory asked.

"A gift," I said. We continued our trip through the corridor.

A minute later I was standing in a hastily arranged conference room with General Gau. He stood to one side of a table surrounded by Obin-style seats, which were not really well designed either for his physiology or mine. I stood on the other, shirt in my hand.

"I will wait outside," Hickory said, after it delivered me.

"Thank you, Hickory," I said. It left. I turned and faced the general. "Hi," I said, somewhat lamely.

"You are Zoe," General Gau said. "The human who has the Obin to do her bidding." His words were in a language I didn't understand; they were translated through a communicator device that hung from his neck.

"That's me," I said. I heard my words translated into his language.

"I am interested in how a human girl is able to commandeer an Obin transport ship to take her to see me," General Gau said.

"It's a long story," I said.

"Give me the short version," Gau said.

"My father created special machines that gave the Obin consciousness. The Obin revere me as the only surviving link to my father. They do what I ask them to," I said.

"It must be nice to have an entire race at your beck and call," Gau said.

"You should know," I said. "You have four hundred races at yours. Sir."

General Gau did something with his head that I was going to hope was meant to be a smile. "That's a matter of some debate at this point, I'm afraid," he said. "But I am confused. I was under the impression that you are the daughter of John Perry, administrator of the Roanoke Colony."

"I am," I said. "He and his wife Jane Sagan adopted me after my father died. My birth mother had died some time before that. It is on my adopted parents' account that I am here now. Although I apologize" - I motioned to myself, and my state of unreadiness - "I didn't expect to meet you here, now. I thought we would come to you, and I would have time to prepare."

"When I heard that the Obin were ferrying a human to see me, and one from Roanoke, I was curious enough not to want to wait," Gau said. "I also find value in making my opposition wonder what I am up to. My coming to visit an Obin ship rather than waiting to receive their embassy will make some wonder who you are, and what I know that they don't."

"I hope I'm worth the trip," I said.

"If you're not, I'll still have made them nervous," Gau said. "But considering how far you've come, I hope for both our sakes the trip has been worth it. Are you completely dressed?"

"What?" I said. Of the many questions I might have been expecting, this wasn't one of them.

The general pointed to my hand. "You have a shirt in your hands," he said.

"Oh," I said, and put the shirt on the table between us. "It's a gift. Not the shirt. There's something wrapped in the shirt. That's the gift. I was hoping to find something else to put it in before I gave it to you, but you sort of surprised me. I'm going to shut up now and let you just have that."

The general gave me what I think was a strange look, and then reached out and unwrapped what was in the shirt. It was the stone knife given to me by the werewolf. He held it up and examined it in the light. "This is a very interesting gift," he said, and began moving it in his hand, testing it, I guessed, for weight and balance. "And quite a nicely designed knife."

"Thank you," I said.

"Not precisely modern weaponry," he said.

"No," I said.

"Figured that a general must have an interest in archaic weapons?" Gau asked.

"Actually there's a story behind it," I said. "There's a native race of intelligent beings on Roanoke. We didn't know about them before we landed. Not too long ago we met up with them for the first time, and things went badly. Some of them died, and some of us died. But then one of them and one of us met and decided not to try to kill each other, and exchanged gifts instead. That knife was one of those gifts. It's yours now."

"That's an interesting story," Gau said. "And I think I'm correct in supposing that this story has some implication for why you're here."

"It's up to you, sir," I said. "You might just decide it's a nice stone knife."

"I don't think so," Gau said. "Administrator Perry is a man who plays with subtext. It's not lost on me what it means that he has sent his daughter to deliver a message. But then to offer this particular gift, with its particular story. He's a man of some subtlety."

"I think so, too," I said. "But the knife is not from my dad. It's from me."

"Indeed," Gau said, surprised. "That's even more interesting. Administrator Perry didn't suggest it?"

"He doesn't know I had the knife," I said. "And he doesn't know how I got it."

"But you did intend to send me a message with it," Gau said. "One to complement your adopted father's."

"I hoped you'd see it that way," I said.

Gau set the knife down. "Tell me what Administrator Perry has to tell me," he said.

"You're going to be assassinated," I said. "Someone is going to try, anyway. It's someone close to you. Someone in your trusted circle of advisors. Dad doesn't know when or how, but he knows that it's planned to happen soon. He wanted you to know so you could protect yourself."

"Why?" General Gau asked. "Your adopted father is an official of the Colonial Union. He was part of the plan that destroyed the Conclave fleet and has threatened everything I have worked for, for longer than you have been alive, young human. Why should I trust the word of my enemy?"

"The Colonial Union is your enemy, not my dad," I said.

"Your dad helped kill tens of thousands," Gau said. "Every ship in my fleet was destroyed but my own."

"He begged you not to call your ships to Roanoke," I said.

"This was a place where he was all too subtle," Gau said. "He never explained how the trap had been set. He merely asked me not to call my fleet. A little more information would have kept thousands alive."

"He did what he could," I said. "You were there to destroy our colony. He wasn't allowed to surrender it to you. You know he didn't have many options. And as it was he was recalled by the Colonial Union and put on trial for even hinting to you that something might happen. He could have been sent to prison for the simple act of speaking to you, General. He did what he could."

"How do I know he's not just being used again?" Gau asked.

"You said you knew what it meant that he sent me to give you a message," I said. "I'm the proof that he's telling you the truth."

"You're the proof he believes he's telling me the truth," Gau said. "It's not to say that it is the truth. Your adopted father was used once. Why couldn't he be used again?"

I flared at this. "Begging your pardon, General," I said. "But you should know that by sending me to send you this warning, both my dad and my mom are absolutely assured of being labeled as traitors by the Colonial Union. They are both going to prison. You should know that as part of the deal to get the Obin to bring me to you, I can't go back to Roanoke. I have to stay with them. Because they believe that it's only a matter of time before Roanoke is destroyed, if not by you then by some part of the Conclave you don't have any control over anymore. My parents and I have risked everything to give you this warning. It's possible I'll never see them or anyone else on Roanoke again, because I am giving you this warning. Now, General, do you think any of us would do any of this if we were not absolutely certain about what we are telling you? Do you?"

General Gau said nothing for a moment. Then, "I am sorry you have all had to risk so much," he said.

"Then do my dad the honor of believing him," I said. "You're in danger, General. And that danger is closer than you think."

"Tell me, Zoe," Gau said, "what does Administrator Perry hope to get from telling me this? What does he want from me?"

"He wants you to stay alive," I said. "You promised him that as long as you were running the Conclave, you wouldn't attack Roanoke again. The longer you stay alive, the longer we stay alive."

"But there's the irony," Gau said. "Thanks to what happened at Roanoke, I'm not in as much control as I was. My time now is spent keeping others in line. And there are those who are looking at Roanoke as a way to take control from me. I'm sure you don't know about Nerbros Eser - "

"Sure I do," I said. "Your main opposition right now. He's trying to convince people to follow him. Wants to destroy the Colonial Union."

"I apologize," Gau said. "I forgot you're not just a messenger girl."

"It's all right," I said.

"Nerbros Eser is planning to attack Roanoke," Gau said. "I have been getting the Conclave back under my control - too slowly - but enough races support Eser that he has been able to fund an expedition to take Roanoke. He knows the Colonial Union is too weak to put up a defense of the colony, and he knows that at the moment I am in no position to stop him. If he can take Roanoke where I could not, more Conclave races could side with him. Enough that they would attack the Colonial Union directly."

"You can't help us, then," I said.

"Other than to tell you what I just have, no," Gau said. "Eser is going to attack Roanoke. But in part because Administrator Perry helped to destroy my fleet, there is no way I can do much to stop him now. And I doubt very much that your Colonial Union will do much to stop him."

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because you are here," General Gau said. "Make no mistake, Zoe, I do appreciate your family's warning. But Administrator Perry is not so kind that he would have warned me out of his own simple goodness. As you've noted, the cost is too high for that. You are here because you have nowhere else to turn."

"But you believe Dad," I said.

"Yes," Gau said. "Unfortunately. Someone in my position is always a target. But now of all times I know that even some of those who I've trusted with my life and friendship are calculating the costs and deciding that I'm worth more to them dead than alive. And it makes sense for someone to try for me before Eser attacks Roanoke. If I'm dead and Eser takes revenge on your colony, no one else will even try to challenge him for control of the Conclave. Administrator Perry isn't telling me anything I don't know. He's only confirming what I do know."

"Then I've been no use to you," I said. And you've been no use to me, I thought but did not say.

"I wouldn't say that," Gau said. "One of the reasons I am here now is so that I could hear what you had to say to me without anyone else involved. To find out what I could do with the information you might have. To see if it has use to me. To see if you are of use to me."

"You already knew what I told you," I said.

"This is true," Gau said. "However, no one else knows how much you know. Not here, in any event." He reached over and picked up the stone knife and looked at it again. "And the truth of the matter is that I'm getting tired of not knowing, of those whom I trust, which is planning to stab me in the heart. Whoever is planning to assassinate me is going to be in league with Nerbros Eser. They are likely to know when he plans to attack Roanoke, and with how large a force. And perhaps working together we can find out both of these things."

"How?" I asked.

General Gau looked at me again, and did that I-hope-it's-a-smile thing with his head. "By doing a bit of political theater. By making them think we know what they do. By making them act because of it."

I smiled back at Gau. "'The play is the thing in which I shall catch the conscience of the king,'" I said.

"Precisely," Gau said. "Although it will be a traitor we catch, not a king."

"In that quote he was both," I said.

"Interesting," Gau said. "I'm afraid I don't know the reference."

"It's from a play called Hamlet," I said. "I had a friend who liked the playwright."

"I like the quote," Gau said. "And your friend."

"Thanks," I said. "I do too."

"One of you in this chamber is a traitor," General Gau said. "And I know which one of you it is."

Wow, I thought. The general sure knows how to start a meeting.

We were in the general's official advisors' chamber, an ornate room, which, the general told me beforehand, he never used except to receive foreign dignitaries with some semblance of pomp and circumstance. Since he was technically receiving me for this particular meeting, I felt special. But more to the point, the room featured a small raised platform with steps, on which sat a large chair. Dignitaries, advisors and their staff all approached it like it was a throne. This was going to be useful for what General Gau had in mind for today.

In front of the platform, the room opened up into a semicircle. Around the perimeter stood a curving bar, largely of standing height for most sentient species in the Conclave. This is where advisors' and dignitaries' staff stood, calling up documents and data when needed and whispering (or whatever) into small microphones that fed into earpieces (or whatever) worn by their bosses.

Their bosses - the advisors and dignitaries - filed into the area between the bar and the platform. Usually, I was told, they would have benches or chairs (or whatever suited their body shape best) offered to them so they could rest as they did their business. Today, they were all standing.

As for me, I was standing to the left and just in front of the general, who was seated in his big chair. On the opposite side of the chair was a small table, on which lay the stone knife, which I had just (and for the second time) presented to the general. This time it was delivered in packaging more formal than a shirt. The general had taken it out of the box I had found, admired it, and set it on the table.

Back along with the staff stood Hickory and Dickory, who were not happy with the plan the general had come up with. With them were three of the general's security detail, who were likewise not very pleased at all.

Well, now that we were doing it, I'm not sure I was entirely thrilled with it either.

"I thought we were here to hear a request from this young human," said one of the advisors, a tall Lalan (that is, tall even for a Lalan) named Hafte Sorvalh. Her voice was translated by the earpiece I had been given by the Obin.

"It was a pretense," Gau said. "The human has no petition, but information pertaining to which one of you intends to assassinate me."

This naturally got a stir in the chamber. "It is a human!" said Wert Ninung, a Dwaer. "No disrespect, General, but the humans recently destroyed the entire Conclave fleet. Any information they would share with you should be regarded as highly suspect, to say the least."

"I agree with this entirely, Ninung," Gau said. "Which is why when it was provided to me I did what any sensible person would have done and had my security people check the information thoroughly. I regret to say that the information was good. And now I must deal with the fact that one of my advisors - someone who was privy to all my plans for the Conclave - has conspired against me."

"I don't understand," said a Ghlagh whose name, if I could remember correctly, was Lernin Il. I wasn't entirely sure, however; Gau's security people had given me dossiers on Gau's circle of advisors only a few hours before the meeting, and given everything else I needed to do to prepare, I had barely had time to skim.

"What don't you understand, Lernin?" asked General Gau.

"If you know which of us is the traitor, why hasn't your security detail already dealt with them?" Il asked. "This could be done without exposing you to an unnecessary risk. Given your position you don't need to take any more risks than are absolutely necessary."

"We are not talking about some random killer, Il," the general said. "Look around you. How long have we known each other? How hard have each of us worked to create this great Conclave of races? We have seen more of each other over time than we have seen of our spouses and children. Would any of you have accepted it if I were to make one of you disappear over a vague charge of treason? Would that not seem to each of you that I was losing my grip and creating scapegoats? No, Il. We have come too far and done too much for that. Even this would-be assassin deserves better courtesy than that."

"What do you intend to do, then?" asked Il.

"I will ask the traitor in this room to come forward," he said. "It's not too late to right this wrong."

"Are you offering this assassin amnesty?" asked some creature whose name I just did not remember (or, given how it spoke, I suspect I could not actually pronounce, even if I did remember it).

"No," Gau said. "This person is not acting alone. They are part of a conspiracy that threatens what all of us have worked for." Gau gestured to me. "My human friend here has given me a few names, but that is not enough. For the security of the Conclave we need to know more. And to show all the members of the Conclave that treason cannot be tolerated, my assassin must answer for what they have done to this point. What I do offer is this: That they will be treated fairly and with dignity. That they will serve their term of punishment with some measure of comfort. That their family and loved ones will not be punished or held responsible, unless they themselves are conspirators. And that their crime will not be made known publicly. Every one outside this room will know only that this conspirator has retired from service. There will be punishment. There must be punishment. But there will not be the punishment of history."

"I want to know where this human got its information," said Wert Ninung.

Gau nodded to me. "This information ultimately comes from the Colonial Union's Special Forces division," I said.

"The same group that spearheaded the destruction of the Conclave fleet," Wert said. "Not especially trustworthy."

"Councilor Wert," I said, "how do you think the Special Forces were able to locate every one of the ships of your fleet? The only time it assembles is when it removes a colony. Locating four hundred ships among the tens of thousands that each race alone has at its disposal was an unheard of feat of military intelligence. After that, do you doubt that the Special Forces had difficulty coming up with a single name?"

Wert actually growled at me. I thought that was rude.

"I have already told you that I have had the information checked out," General Gau said. "There is no doubt it is accurate. That is not under discussion. What is under discussion is how the assassin will choose to be discovered. I repeat: The assassin is in this room, right now, among us. If they will come forward now, and share information on their other conspirators, their treatment will be generous, light and secret. The offer is in front of you now. I beg you, as an old friend, to take it. Come forward now."

No one in the room moved. General Gau stared at each of his advisors, directly and in the eye, for several seconds each. None of them took so much as a step forward.

"Very well," General Gau said. "We do this the hard way, then."

"What will you do now, General?" asked Sorvalh.

"Simple," Gau said. "I will call up each of you in turn. You will bow to me and swear your allegiance to me as the leader of the Conclave. Those of you who I know are truthful, I will offer you my thanks. The one of you who is a traitor, I will reveal you in front of those you have worked alongside for so long, and have you arrested. Your punishment will be severe. And it will be most definitely public. And it will end with your death."

"This is not like you, General," Sorvalh said. "You created the Conclave with the idea that there would be no dictators, no demands of personal allegiance. There is only allegiance to the Conclave. To its ideals."

"The Conclave is near collapse, Hafte," Gau said. "And you know as well as I do that Nerbros Eser and his sort will run the Conclave like a personal fiefdom. One among you has already decided that Eser's dictatorship is preferable to a Conclave where every race has a voice. It's clear to me that I must ask for the allegiance I once only held in trust. I am sorry it has come to this. But it has."

"What if we will not swear allegiance?" Sorvalh said.

"Then you will be arrested as a traitor," Gau said. "Along with the one who I know to be the assassin."

"You are wrong to do this," Sorvalh said. "You are going against your own vision for the Conclave to ask for this allegiance. I want you to know I believe this in my soul."

"Noted," Gau said.

"Very well," Sorvalh said, and stepped forward to the platform and knelt. "General Tarsem Gau, I offer you my allegiance as the leader of the Conclave."

Gau looked at me. This was my cue. I shook my head at him, clearly enough that everyone in the room could see that he was waiting for my verification.

"Thank you, Hafte," Gau said. "You may step back. Wert Ninung, please step forward."

Ninung did. As did the next six advisors. There were three left.

I was beginning to get very nervous. Gau and I had already agreed that we would not carry the act so far as to accuse someone who wasn't actually guilty. But if we got to the end without a traitor, then we both would have a lot to answer for.

"Lernin Il," General Gau said. "Please step forward."

Il nodded and smoothly moved forward and when he got to me, viciously shoved me to the floor and lunged for the stone knife Gau had left on the table next to him. I hit the floor so hard I bounced my skull on it. I heard screaming and honks of alarm from the other advisors. I rolled and looked up as Il raised the knife and prepared to plunge it into the general.

The knife was left out and within easy reach for a reason. Gau had already said he intended to reveal the traitor; he said he knew without a doubt who it was; he said the punishment for the traitor would include death. The traitor would already be convinced he would have nothing to lose by attempting the assassination then and there. But Gau's advisors didn't usually carry around killing implements on their person; they were bureaucrats and didn't carry anything more dangerous than a writing stylus. But a nice sharp stone knife carelessly left lying around would be just the thing to convince a desperate would-be assassin to take a chance. This was also one reason why the general's guards (and Hickory and Dickory) were stationed at the perimeter of the room instead of near the general; we had to give the illusion to the assassin that he could get in a stab or two before the guards got him.

The general wasn't stupid, of course; he was wearing body armor that protected most of the parts of his body susceptible to stab wounds. But the general's head and neck were still vulnerable. The general thought it was worth the risk, but now as I watched the general trying to move to protect himself, I came to the conclusion that the weakest part of our plan was the one where the general presumably avoids being stabbed to death.

Il was bringing down the knife. None of the general's guards or Hickory or Dickory was going to get there in time. Hickory and Dickory had trained me how to disarm an opponent; the problem was I was on the ground and not in any position to block the knife blow. And anyway the Ghlagh were a Conclave race; I hadn't spent any time learning any of their weak points.

But then something occurred to me, as I lay there on my back, staring up at Il.

I may not know much about the Ghlagh, but I sure know what a knee looks like.

I braced myself on the floor, pushed, and drove the heel of my foot hard into the side of Lernin Il's most available knee. It gave way with a sickly twist and I thought I could feel something in his leg go snap, which made me feel sick. Il squealed in pain and grabbed at his leg, dropping the knife. I scrambled away as quickly as I could. General Gau launched himself out of his chair and took Il all the rest of the way down.

Hickory and Dickory were suddenly by me, dragging me off the riser. Gau shouted something to his guards, who were racing toward the general.

"His staff!" Gau said. "Stop his staff!"

I looked over to the bar and saw three Ghlagh lunging at their equipment. Il's people were clearly in on the assassination and were now trying to signal their conspirators that they'd been discovered. Gau's men skidded to a stop and reversed themselves, leaping over the bar to get at Il's staff. They knocked away their equipment, but not before at least one of them had gotten a message through. We knew that because all through the Conclave headquarters, alarms began stuttering to life.

The space station was under attack.

About a minute after Il had made his clumsy attack on General Gau, an Impo battle cruiser named the Farre launched six missiles into the portion of the Conclave space station where Gau's offices were. The Farre was commanded by an Impo named Ealt Ruml. Ruml, it turns out, had reached an agreement with Nerbros Eser and Lernin Il to take command of a new Conclave fleet after Gau was assassinated. Ruml would then take the entire fleet to Phoenix Station, destroy it and start working down the list of human worlds. In exchange all Ruml had to do was be prepared to do a little flagrant bombing of Gau's offices and flagship when signaled, as part of a larger, orchestrated coup attempt, which would feature Gau's assassination as the main event and the destruction of key battle ships from races loyal to Gau.

When Gau revealed to his advisors that he knew one of them was a traitor, one of Il's staffers sent a coded message to Ruml, informing him that everything was about to go sideways. Ruml in turn sent coded messages of his own to three other battle cruisers near the Conclave station, each captained by someone Ruml had converted to the cause. All four ships began warming up their weapons systems and selecting targets: Ruml targeted Gau's offices while the other traitors targeted Gau's flagship Gentle Star and other craft.

If everything went as planned, Ruml and his conspirators would have disabled the ships most likely to come to Gau's aid - not that it would matter, because Ruml would have opened up Gau's offices to space, sucking anyone in them (including, at the time, me) into cold, airless vacuum. Minutes later, when Il's staff sent a confirmation note just before getting their equipment kicked out of their paws, Ruml launched his missiles and readied another set to go.

And was, I imagine, entirely surprised when the Farre was struck broadside almost simultaneously by three missiles fired from the Gentle Star. The Star and six other trusted ships had been put on alert by Gau to watch for any ships that began warming up their weapons systems. The Star had spotted the Farre warming up its missile batteries and had quietly targeted the ship and prepared its own defense.

Gau had forbidden any action until someone else's missiles flew, but the instant the Farre launched, the Star did the same, and then began antimissile defenses against the two missiles targeting it, sent by the Arrisian cruiser Vut-Roy.

The Star destroyed one of the missiles and took light damage from the second. The Farre, which had not been expecting a counterattack, took heavy damage from the Star's missiles and even more damage when its engine ruptured, destroying half of the ship and killing hundreds on board, including Ealt Ruml and his bridge crew. Five of the six missiles fired by the Farre were disabled by the space station's defenses; the sixth hit the station, blowing a hole in the station compartment next to Gau's offices. The station's system of airtight doors sealed off the damage in minutes; forty-four people were killed.

All of this happened in the space of less than two minutes, because the battle happened at incredibly close range. Unlike space battles in entertainment shows, real battles between spaceships take place over huge distances. In this battle, however, all the ships were in orbit around the station. Some of the ships involved were just a few klicks away from each other. That's pretty much the starship equivalent of going after each other with knives.

Or so I'm told. I'm going by what others tell me of the battle, because at the time what I was doing was being dragged out of General Gau's advisor chamber by Hickory and Dickory. The last thing I saw was Gau pinning down Lernin Il while at the same time trying to keep his other advisors from beating the living crap out of him. There was too much noise for my translation device to work anymore, but I suspected that Gau was trying to tell the rest of them that he needed Il alive. What can you say. No one likes a traitor.

I'm also told that the battle outside of the space station would have gone on longer than it did except that shortly after the first salvo of missiles a funny thing happened: An Obin cruiser skipped into existence unsettlingly close to the Conclave space station, setting off a series of proximity alarms to go with the attack alarms already in progress. That was unusual, but what really got everyone's attention was the other ships that appeared about thirty seconds afterward. It took the station a few minutes to identify these.

And at that point everyone who had been fighting each other realized they now had something bigger to worry about.

I didn't know about any of this right away. Hickory and Dickory had dragged me to the conference room some distance away from the advisor chamber and were keeping it secure when the alarms suddenly stopped.

"Well, I finally used that training," I said, to Hickory. I was amped up on leftover adrenaline from the assassination attempt and paced up and down in the room. Hickory said nothing to this and continued to scan the corridor for threats. I sighed and waited until it signaled that it was safe to move.

Ten minutes later, Hickory clicked something to Dickory, who went to the door. Hickory went into the corridor and out of sight. Shortly after that I heard what sounded like Hickory arguing with someone. Hickory returned, followed by six very serious-looking guards and General Gau.

"What happened?" I asked. "Are you okay?"

"What do you have to do with the Consu?" General Gau asked me, ignoring my question.

"The Consu?" I said. "Nothing. I had asked the Obin to try to contact them on my behalf, to see if they could help me save Roanoke. That was a few days ago. I haven't heard from the Obin about it since."

"I think you have an answer," Gau said. "They're here. And they're asking to see you."

"There's a Consu ship here now?" I said.

"Actually, the Consu asking for you is on an Obin ship," Gau said. "Which doesn't make any sense to me at all, but never mind that. There were Consu ships following the Obin ship."

"Ships," I said. "How many?"

"So far?" Gau said. "About six hundred."

"Excuse me?" I said. My adrenaline spiked again.

"There are still more coming in," Gau said. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Zoe, but if you've done something to anger the Consu, I hope they choose to take it out on you, not us."

I turned and looked at Hickory, disbelieving.

"You said you required help," Hickory said.