In the near future, Zach works as an advocate for an influential family in the Central Territories. His job is to keep his clients out of jail, but they make it hard for him if they can't keep their mouths shut. He manages to convince his clients not to talk, but as he's getting ready to leave the penal satellite, an escaping prisoner takes him hostage. To his surprise, Zach recognizes the man.
Aron has to consider his next step carefully and quickly. He has to decide if he wants to go for the obvious and predictable, leave the penal satellite as everyone expects him to, or the unexpected but dangerous, stay and wait out the search team. But a familiar face from his days at the Academy makes his choice for him and he decides he's going to take a hostage.
There are a lot of obstacles between Aron and Zach, from Zach's loneliness but fear of commitment to Aron's lack of communication. And if that wasn't enough, their behavior is unfamiliar and they realize they might not be the same people they were in the Academy. Why isn't Zach working for the Marshal's Office as his moral code seemed to dictate? Is Aron more than an escaped prisoner? Will they manage to find a way to find those answers without also destroying what they've got?
From the disk, a hologram of a squat man comes up. The redness of his face is not something that’s usually seen these days with the people adapting to a capricious climate and says more about his level of frustration and anger than words ever could. His judicious use of a handkerchief only serves to reinforce that image.
“Good afternoon, Advocate Miller,” the man says in a sonorous voice. He doesn’t offer a name, probably believing that Zach already knows him. He doesn’t.
“We are aware that you’ve aided a fugitive,” the man says. “You are hereby arrested by the power the Republic invested in me.”
“I’m invoking Code 56 of the PSM,” Zach says dryly.
The man gets redder and the officer twitches.
“Under the Personal Security Model, Code 56, I am allowed not to report an event that caused me to believe I was in danger,” Zach continues. It’s one of the many laws added to make it impossible to get something on the ruling Board or any of their friends. It has conditions, of course, to make sure it applied to the right people, but Zach has enough money to qualify. Add a dash of working with one of the Families, with the pull that provides, and Zach is home free. “My life, as an influential person in society due to my position as Advocate and as a person who gives back generously, was threatened by my abductor if I didn’t keep his secret. I acted with regard to my safety.”
The man clenches his teeth so hard, Zach can hear them grind together. “And would the perpetrator of such an act admit to it in court?”
Zach is sure that Aron would. He chose one of the most expensive ships for comfort, yes, but he probably had other reasons for it too. Maybe not that exact reason, but he’d go with it if Zach offered. Aron isn’t the most accommodating man, but he can be if the situation doesn’t cause him added headache. This would qualify.
However, “He doesn’t need to. I am an Advocate, please cease offending me. He had a weapon; he didn’t need it. He issued a threat; he didn’t need to. He’s not an actual suspect, he’s a White Hat and he didn’t need to tell me that either.” Zach’s voice is ice-cold. This is too much like them. “All you need is my say-so. And -- I -- say -- so.”
The man glares. “Listen here, Mr. Miller, you don’t take that tone with me! I will not be --”
“I would return the insult, only I have no idea what your name is or what title I’m deliberately ignoring,” Zach talks over him, his deep, icy tone, cutting through the man’s flustered spluttering.
“I am Caretaker Higgs of the Central Territories’ Forced and Probationary Community Services!” the man shouts, voice higher than the regular male register.
“It is my honor to meet a person of your status,” Zach says by rote but still polite. He has to be careful not to push it too far, his pull has limits. It’s also much more fun this way. Plus, “Mr. Higgs, I have enough reason to argue the point further, but the fact of the matter is that I know there won’t be a trial. Now, are we all friends here, or aren’t we?” He can be a gracious winner.
“We are,” Higgs spits, after a pause. “Did he say where he was going?”
“No,” Zach answers promptly, helpful smile at home on his lips. It’s a well-worn mask.
Higgs grinds his teeth again. “Did you ask?”
“Why in the Rep -- didn -- yo --?!” And the rest is completely lost in even more incoherent shouts.
Zach waits until Higgs stops and then says, “I’m afraid the only thing I was interested in was his mouth. It didn’t disappoint.”
“You!” Higgs reacts viciously and Zach fixes him with the mother of all icy glares. But Higgs is beyond reason. He continues, in the same impassionate vein, “You disgusting little worm! You’re not better than a criminal and not only do I have to put up with you and the rest of your obnoxious cockroaches of cl --”
This time, Higgs is interrupted by the officer fake coughing. Higgs freezes, paling. Zach lifts an eyebrow.
“You were saying?” Zach asks pleasantly.
Higgs swallows hard.