Twenty-four hours earlier, on October 23rd 2607, Bernice is questioning Bev’s decision to give the Draconians permission to land, but Bev knows that because KS-159 is one of the most disputed territories on the Draconian-Mim border, it’s not a question of keeping the Draconians out; the blockade is keeping them trapped on the planetoid with two great space fleets on either side knocking ten bells out of each other. They can’t flee and they can’t fight them both, but they can make friends without picking sides. To counterbalance their planned reception for the Draconian ambassador, Bev is also sending a diplomatic team to the Mimsphere. Although Bev says that agreeing a peace is their best chance of getting out of this in one piece, Bernice suspects she‘s actually playing for power against Braxiatel. Bev and Bernice had spent a year working together after Braxiatel left, which was plenty of time for them to work out what their differences were. A thief never looks back, but an archaeologist never lets go of the past. Braxiatel is currently locked away in his study, and Bev suggests he’s either ashamed to come out or is scared of what people might do to him. Bev hates politicians, as she says you always have to listen to the subtext to get their real message.
Ambassador Kothar’s ship comes in to land, and Bev asks for the anthem of the Draconian Star Empire to be played. Bev introduces Kothar to Bernice, but he claims to have seen her before and believes her to be Beth’s “sexual convenience“. Bernice is shocked, until Bev reminds her that Kothar was present during last summer’s video conference in which the two women ended up kissing.
In his study, Braxiatel supervises the work needed to re-initialise the containment fields that protect the Collection. Unfortunately, Doggles (who by his own oft-repeated admission is a certified genius) was only able to follow about 50% of Braxiatel’s instructions, and Adrian only got as far as the reference to running power lines. Bernice pops in to see how they’re doing, and Braxiatel tells her that Jason’s interference with his office means that half the controls he needs to solve this problem no longer exist. Bernice refuses to accept the criticism and blames Braxiatel for creating the problem in the first place. She also points out that he owes Jason a bit more respect, given what he did to him. And finally, she adds that nobody knew they were upsetting his controls because he never bothered telling them he’d merged his ship with the Collection. Suitably cowed, Braxiatel returns to supervising the work, but clarifies that as soon as he’s deal with the problem, he’ll be on his way. But as a gesture of good faith, he’s prepared to offer Bernice some free advice: Bev is sending a diplomatic team to the Mimsphere, so she should be reminded that it’s not always the most hospitable of places.
Bernice passes the comment on to Bev who is angry because Braxiatel is right. Although the diplomatic team will be inside the atmospheric domes, they’re not terribly robust, and all it will take is one strategic breakthrough for the Draconians to be within striking distance. Bev contacts Hass and confirms that his pressure suit can stand up to conditions on the Mimsphere, so she asks him to start packing. He may be a gardener, but he’s the only member of their staff who can survive the Mim atmosphere. Bernice is sceptical and says they might as well send Joseph, but Bev takes her seriously and orders Joseph to accompany Hass, after checking that the robotic porter is up to date on the political situation and has the necessary diplomatic protocols. It’s not ideal, but any diplomatic mission is better than nothing.
Bev says that Kothar is due to give a presentation soon and Bernice assumes it’ll come in the form of a big bomb. Bernice has done some digging on Kothar and discovered that almost every speech he’s given recently has included a tirade about so-called “dishonourable apes”. Bev leaves to attend to some arrangements, and Bernice is joined by Adrian wearing a tuxedo. He asks her whether she’d have any objection to him marrying Bev and although she teases him, she readily gives her blessing, although she insists that Peter must never be allowed to call Bev “mum”.
Ambassador Kothar steps forward and begins a speech acknowledging that they’re living in dangerous times and applauding repositories such as the Braxiatel Collection for gathering together the treasures of the ages and maintaining a standard of academia. As a gesture of the Draconians’ loyalty, he would like to present Bev with a gift. He produces a small wooden trunk, and for a moment Bernice’s worst fears seem to be confirmed, but when the trunk is opened the assembled guests see what appears to be a glove inside. Kothar explains that in ancient times, disagreements were resolved by duels and it was traditional to wear an armoured gauntlet. While such rituals no longer play a role in Draconian life, he’s pleased to present an example of their heritage to the Collection as a symbol of swift resolution. He invites Bev to put the gauntlet on and she says she would be honoured. While she’s doing this, Bernice tells Adrian how rare it is to find something like that intact as most of the good stuff gets looted or damaged over the years. Bev joins them and Bernice starts to drop very unsubtle hints about other forms of jewellery that can be worn on the left hand, and Adrian jumps in to stop her. They realise how expensive the gift it, which suggests the Draconians are taking diplomacy very seriously, so they wonder how well the war is really going for them. Bev reveals that she has a friend at the Stonehauser Medical Facility, which has been taking a lot of casualties from the battlefront. The Mim were never soldiers and don’t have a history of warfare, but the tactical data suggests the Draconians are having to fall back and reform.
Ambassador Kothar joins them and says that he hopes the Collection can help resolve the stalemate, not as soldiers, but perhaps in the courtroom. Although the Mim are very good at mimicking the actions of their opponents, the Draconians' studies have apparently shown that the Mim are barely sentient. Bernice points out that they have spaceships and technology, and their sphere supports a vibrant alien culture, all of which would indicate sentient thought, but Kothar believes this simply demonstrates the Mim‘s true nature as ‘chameleons‘. Their true form is a toxic sponge-like matter and their brains are indistinguishable from their fingers, which makes them very hard to kill. He believes they’ve simply stolen and copied their technology and are nothing more than a virus that’s adapted to its environment. Bernice suddenly realises what he meant by the courtroom and tells Bev that there are universal rules of engagement which ban the use of certain tactics and weapons -- but only on sentient beings. If the Draconians can get a court ruling that the Mim aren’t sentient, they can use whatever weapons they like, but no court would ever give credence to such a position without credible academic support. They have a meeting scheduled for the following morning in the Hall of Mirrors, but until then Kothar bids them goodnight and retires to his room. As soon as they’re alone, Bev and Bernice agree that they need some urgent advice from someone who’s more experienced at seeing the long game...
Braxiatel greets his visitors with a forced smile and notes the lateness of the hour. Bernice tells him they have a problem and need his advice, but although Braxiatel warns them of the consequences if they agree to support Kothar, he adds that this has nothing to do with the repairs he’s working on and refuses to get drawn any further into the argument.
Adrian is summoning up the courage to propose to Bev when she comes home. They begin discussing Kothar’s request and he’s shocked when she says she’s considering whether to support it. She argues that it’s purely an academic judgement and her responsibility is to the safety of the Collection, not the Mim. For a moment Adrian considers proposing anyway, but the way Bev’s talking reminds him of the person she used to be, not the person she is today. There are still things about her past that she won’t discuss with him. He reminds her of the time he was imprisoned and nearly executed by the Fifth Axis because their courts judged that he wasn’t the same as them. He accuses her of being willing to sign the death warrant of an entire species in return for the jewelled gauntlet, and in frustration, she tries to take the glove off. For the first time, she discovers that she can’t remove it...
Later, Ambassador Kothar is awoken by a knock on the door. Bev is outside with Bernice, and they tell him they have an unusual problem. It’s been two hours now and Bev has been unable to release the gauntlet from her arm. Just then, she receives a communication from Doggles and makes her excuses to leave. Bernice tells Kothar she was about to slice the gauntlet off with a laser cutter, but before destroying a priceless antique they thought they should check with him first. Kothar seems unconcerned by their proposal and assures her there will be no diplomatic repercussions if they go ahead, then he closes the door in Bernice‘s face.
Bernice reminds Braxiatel how much she hates Draconians -- or to put it more precisely she loves studying their feudal society, but she doesn’t like dealing with them personally. She thinks they’re stuck-up chauvinists with a fat layer of patronising on top. And it’s very difficult to know when they’re lying. Braxiatel returns to the problem of Bev’s gauntlet and suggests they use a laser cutter, but they’ve already tried it and it didn’t work. In any case, they have more pressing business to deal with; Bev reports that the long-range array has shown the Draconians moving half a dozen phase-cannons up to the front. They’ll be within strike range of the Mim within 24 hours. It seems Ambassador Kothar is very confident he’ll get the ruling he wants, so Bev now has a deadline. Bernice tells her she needs to concentrate on the job in hand and leave the problem of the gauntlet to her and Braxiatel.
The Earth government refuses to take an official position on the war, beyond urging both sides to end hostilities, but they do begin procedures to create a buffer zone should the fighting spread closer to their space. Reports also start coming in of an explosion at the Fallowfields Transport Station. Although both the Draconians and the Mim deny responsibility, the station is situated well within the border of Terran Space and arms distributors were known to use it as a jump-point en route to the Galactic Rim. Bev realises the conflict is beginning to escalate. Joseph calls to say that the Mim have agreed to allow him and Hass passage through the blockade, so they should arrive at their sphere in just over 30 hours time. Bev opens up a link to the Stonehauser Medical Facility and asks the computer to search for Dr John Fletcher. He was an old contact of hers who’s been treating Mim casualties and he’s the closest thing they’ve got to an expert in Mim biology. There are now only 12 hours to the deadline, so she has to be seen to take Kothar’s offer seriously, even if she ultimately refuses it. Adrian pops in to invite her to breakfast, but she’s too busy to join him. She thinks she hears him say the word “butterfly”, which incites a strong reaction from her, but when she challenges him on it, he denies saying anything and leaves. The computer reports back to say that the carrier signal to the Stonehauser Facility will not engage. Bev hears the word “butterfly” being repeated over and over again... then feels an agonising pain in her arm and collapses into unconsciousness.
In the medical wing, Bev’s friends watch over her with concern. The scanner reports that her bio-signs are all within the human norm, but her neural activity is going ballistic and it’s as well that Adrian found her when he did. Six metallic objects have extruded from the gauntlet and are now embedded in Bev’s forearm in a manner which the computer likens to a medicinal device targeting key nerve clusters. Bernice recognises the engraved design on the gauntlet as a Draconian Razorhawk in flight, with its feet positioned in a way that suggest the embedded objects are talons. Braxiatel wonders whether the gauntlet has been imbued with some sort of supernatural power. Adrian is more interested in confronting Kothar, but Bernice warns him off until they have firm evidence that the Ambassador is responsible... but assures him that when they find out the truth, they’re going to hang Kothar up by his beard.
Bernice and Braxiatel begin researching in the Collection library for clues to the origin and nature of the gauntlet. Bernice is convinced the engraving of the Razorhawk has some meaning, but Braxiatel tells her it’s commonplace amongst the nobles of Draconia and numerous coats-of-arms feature the symbol. This will translate into thousands of artefacts, which makes easy identification impossible. Instead, they decide to research the gauntlet itself, which they establish to be a duelling glove, probably from the feudal age. Bernice wonders if she was wrong to dismiss the idea that the embedded objects were acupuncture needles. She recalls that opiates played a large part in feudal Draconian life and they were very sophisticated for their time, but researching them will be no easier than the engraving. Braxiatel prompts Bernice to think about tracing the previous owners of the glove, as Kothar must have obtained it from somewhere. Bernice asks the computer to open a link to the Draconian Archives.
Bev can hear a voice in her head that sounds like Adrian, telling her it’s time to get up. She looks around and is amazed to find herself on Ataxia, as the last thing she remembers is being in her office. The voice calls her “butterfly” again and she asks him to stop as the only person who ever called her that was Ethan. The man tells her it’ll be dark in a couple of hours, and after they’ve finished this job they’ll never have to work again. Bev starts to recognise the situation and asks what the date is -- and the man tells her it’s August 23rd 2597.
Braxiatel’s research shows that the Kothar bloodline is not only short, it’s devoid of connection to any major historical events -- but Bernice has also discovered that even if his family doesn’t have much of a history, Kothar himself has. In 2582 he was appointed Cultural Attaché to the Draconian Embassy on Earth and he made a speech to the Earth Parliament in which he spent an hour and a half repeatedly referring to the similarities between the two races. These don’t sound like the views of the Kothar they know, and probably weren’t his views even then. During his time on Earth he appeared progressive, but when he returned to Draconia he promoted their race above all, and when he arrived here on the Collection, his speech promoted the importance of academia. It’s all suggestive of a man who adapts and changes his public persona to fit his needs. They hear a noise coming from outside, and when they look through the window they see Kothar and one of his aides engaged in what looks like fencing practice.
It’s night-time on Ataxia when Bev and Ethan -- the man with Adrian’s voice -- arrive at a cave entrance. Bev explains how they can bypass the security system by hacking into the feed and opening the doors into the research facility. Ethan notes that she’s showing an unusual amount of caution, but she reminds him this is an unfamiliar time zone as she's a third millennia girl. She’s been stuck here two years now and he’s heard this rant before -- even when they first met, she was talking about time travel. She was a legend in her own time, someone who could sneak past security systems on restricted worlds and obtain whatever anyone wanted, for the right price...
Bernice approaches Kothar and his aide and asks if they’re anticipating a duel. Kothar explains that this is part of his daily exercise routine and invites her to join him, even offering to slow down his pace to accommodate her. She accepts the challenge and he’s impressed by her style. She tells him that she knows how to improvise and has noticed that he does too. She deliberately lets slip that Braxiatel believes his speech to the Earth Parliament in 2582 was just a front, but that she thought it sounded genuine. She’s also noticed that his voice doesn’t carry the normal Draconian sibilance and at times he almost sounds human. She suspects that he knows humans far too well, and points out that in the 20th century, Cultural Attaches were traditionally spies. Kothar becomes angry and orders her to leave. Before she goes, she explains that she was at a disadvantage because she normally fights with her left hand, but Kothar insists that all Draconians fight with their right hand unless they’re members of the Royal House.
Bev and Ethan are caught in the crossfire of a laser grid. Bev thinks she’s getting sloppy and she should have taken more care with the security measures. She’s been injured, but it was a clean shot through the muscle so it’s nothing a regen tank can’t clear up later. The grid only works underneath soil, so they should be safe now they’re on solid rock. She puts on some EM goggles as the grid left a residual energy signature after it fired and she can now see how far it extends. Ethan is convinced they’ll never make it to the other side, especially with her leg injury, but they have no choice...
When Bernice returns to the library, Braxiatel asks if she learned anything. She asks him why all Draconians fight right-handed and he tells her it’s an ancient tradition. Its origins date back to the first Emperor who united the warring Houses and brought honour to Draconia, but early in his reign he was betrayed. He survived an ambush and the traitor, Lord Salak, was executed and his House was disbanded. There are conflicting versions of exactly what happened, but they all have two things in common -- firstly, Salak was left-handed, so fighting with the left hand became a mark of shame. Only the Royal Family were allowed to fight that way because only they could be trusted. The different versions also refer to another legend which tells of the Judas Gift, the power of the Emperor to divine right from wrong. It was this that rooted out Salak’s treachery in the first place and it means the Royal bloodline has never had to fight another duel since. Braxiatel fails to see the relevance of this until Bernice reminds him that the fighting gauntlet Kothar gave Bev is for the left hand.
On Ataxia, Bev and Ethan celebrate their success in outsmarting the security devices. The Draconians are cracking down on the smuggling routes, so they need to buy their way out. The system colonies pay good money for weapons technology, but they still need to find someone who’s prepared to buy the blueprints they’re planning to steal. Bev already has someone in mind, but she won’t reveal their identity to Ethan in case he shoots her in the back and keeps the money.
Long ago, Bev had met a contact in a dark bar. He was a low-level con artist called Anton, a specialist in antiquities. He was talented, but not really strong enough for this business, and it was easy for her to take control. Her meeting with Anton led to contact with a series of others, each a step further up the ladder, until eventually she was taken to Beyum, the man who controlled the smuggling routes through Draconian space, with stop-offs on the Mimsphere. He smuggled medical supplies, narcotics, people, art. It was Beyum who teamed her up with Ethan. She was supposed to be the brains of their partnership, but she knew that Ethan was smart too, as well as being funny and charming. He used to call her “butterfly”.
Bernice visits Ambassador Kothar, who once again claims to be mystified as to why Bev’s gauntlet remains immovable. She surprises him by telling him she knows exactly what the gauntlet is -- it’s the Judas Gift. Kothar becomes angry and says the Judas Gift is the divine power of the Emperor, a legend from their history books, but she begins to list her research sources, including one that reveals that the Emperor bestowed it on one of the other Royal Houses, either for safekeeping or in gratitude for helping to quash the rebellion. Kothar claims that she’s been reading nothing more than fables for children, but Bernice tells him that the only description of the Judas Gift refers to the ’talons of virtue’ which cut through deceit and strip a traitor of their nobility. The trick in archaeology is to find the thing that connects all the different bits of evidence, and that connection is nearly always provenance. In order to trust your evidence, you need to know where it comes from...
Inside the cave, Bev and Ethan work on deactivating the sensors that will allow them to break into the factory. As the decoder starts running the lock code, she reminds him this is no crusty museum with pensioned-off cops, this is a top security establishment. Just in case something should go wrong, Ethan decides to tell Bev that he’s loved her ever since he first saw her at Beyum’s party. She asks him if he meant what he said, and when he confirms that he does, she feels confident enough to reveal the name of her contact, Marcus Hall. He runs a bar on Port Royal, out past the Rim. They manage to deactivate the locks and on a count of three they run...
Bernice puts all the pieces together and concludes that it’s the Razorhawk’s ‘talons of virtue’ that are imbedded in Bev’s arm. Kothar dismisses this as pure supposition. If Bernice is right, she’s referring to a relic from the time of the first Emperor and she surely can’t believe he’d allow such a priceless object to fall into the hands of a Terran ape? In order to complete her theory, Bernice still needs to find the connection between Kothar himself and the Judas Gift, and once again provenance is the key. She started her research with Kothar and intended to work backwards, but discovered that the records of his House only go back about 30 years. Instead, she started with the first Emperor and worked forwards to work out which of the noble Houses he bequeathed the Gift to. Of the six bloodlines from the first dynasty, only two endured until recent times: House Salah still has a command presence at court, but House Kaytar disappeared about 40 years ago. Kothar stresses that the records of House Kaytar have been sealed, but Bernice says there are Earth stories of a family whose ship was crippled and drifted into Draconian space. It was rescued by a patrol boat from House Kaytar and the family were indentured, but although they were slaves, the Kaytar family became attached to them. The children played together and grew up together, until the head of the House came to realise there was little difference between the species. Kothar denies that any Draconian would ever say such a thing, but Bernice remind him of his earlier speech to the Earth Parliament. It was presumably an attitude he picked up from his parents. Kothar becomes hostile and warns her that if she insults him one more time, he will kill her.
In the medical facility, Bev starts to comes round. Adrian tells her she’s been unconscious for ten hours, and she’s disappointed to see that the gauntlet is still attached to her arm. They don’t have long before the end of Kothar’s deadline, so she asks Adrian to unplug her. Meanwhile, reports start coming in of a major offensive on the edge of the Mimsphere. Commercial traffic has to be routed away from the area, but Red Nebula medical vessels are en route to offer humanitarian aid.
Braxiatel has returned to his study to continue the repairs. When Bernice finds him, he tells her he’s surprised to see her in one piece as insulting a Draconian’s family is not something you take lightly -- but Bernice is even more surprised to see Bev is up and about. Adrian had tried to get her to stay in bed, but she insists she’s fine. Bernice hasn’t found out anything definite, but she thinks she knows what the thing on Bev’s arm is. The Judas Gift is an ancient Draconian justice machine, a form of lie detector used to root out treachery. This would imply that the reason Kothar gave it to her was personal. She asks what caused Bev to collapse and learns that she’d been hearing a voice that belonged to someone she used to know before the gauntlet bit into her arm. Adrian tells her she was talking in her sleep about a planet and a laser grid. Bev remembers dreaming about a job she undertook a long time ago, but it had nothing to do with the Draconians. Bernice is certain Kothar picked Bev for a reason, but Bev is equally certain she has no connection to him. Bernice tells them that Kothar’s history only goes back about 30 years and everything about him as a young man fits with the stories of House Kaytar, so perhaps Bev had dealings with him and didn’t realise it.
Braxiatel suggests the Judas Gift might just be a smokescreen. All the signs indicate that Kothar is a skilled manipulator, capable of adapting to suit his goal. Perhaps he intended to incapacitate Bev and steamroller through the controversial policy on the Mim in her absence? Using something as dishonourable as phase-cannons against the Mim would cause disquiet among the Draconians, and using them with the Collection’s ’approval’ even more so, so it would take a very particular kind of hard-line politician to have any hope of surviving the fall out. Bev points out once again that with politicians, it’s all about the subtext. Bernice suspects that the thing Kothar would want most of all would be the family honour back. The Draconians offered Kothar this position because of his hard-line reputation and he accepted it even though he knew it would ruin him. But in a hundred years time, or maybe a thousand, when the Draconians look back through their history and see how he removed the threat of the Mim, he’ll be a hero. Bev decides she’s not going to play his game and is determined not to be part of the extermination of a species. She plans to use every contact and expert she can find to confirm the Mim’s true status as living beings and to clarify their worth, their independence and their value. She asks the computer again to connect her to the Stonehauser Facility, but there appears to be a problem...
When Bev arrives for her appointment in the Hall of Mirrors with Ambassador Kothar, he rebukes her for being late. She gives him a potted history of the room, which boils down to politics, symbolism and subtext, then she tells him she’s invited some people to join them. He already knows Bernice and Adrian, but she introduces Braxiatel as an expert in many things, particularly the Mim and interstellar radiation. They explain that they’ve been having some communications difficulties since Bev tried to get in touch with the Stonehauser Medical Facility. Kothar suggests it might be a solar flare, but Braxiatel says that the Facility is located close to the Mimsphere’s dockyards and the Mim use Stokes-Barton collectors to drive their reactors which soak up all extraneous radiation for a distance of three light years. If someone wanted to contact Stonehauser, they should get a clearer signal than if they tried to contact someone next door. Bev reveals that the Stonehauser Medical Facility has been destroyed by a stray barrage during a Draconian attack on the nearby dockyards. Kothar dismisses this as collateral damage, but the others point out the victims included men, women and children from a dozen species who had nothing to do with the Draconians' conflict. Bev declares the negotiations with the Draconians to be over; whatever he wanted from them, he’s not going to get it. She tells him to leave, and Kothar ‘reluctantly’ agrees to abide by her wishes -- but only if she returns the token of their friendship. He knows that’s impossible as the gauntlet is fully embedded into her arm, but before they can argue the matter any further, the air is filled with the sound of Draconian combat ships coming in to land. Unfortunately, Braxiatel didn’t have time to finish his work on the Collection’s defences.
As Kothar declares the institute to be under the control of the Draconian Star Empire, armed troops emerge from the ships and start taking control of the population. Anyone that tries to stand in their way is swiftly overpowered. Bernice tells Kothar that he has no legitimate claim here and reminds him they have professors and students here from every major power in the quadrant, but Kothar shouts her down and insists that the gauntlet on Bev’s arm gives them the right. Adrian begins to panic about being caged up again, so Bev does her best to calm him down -- by accepting his marriage proposal. He’s surprised that she knew all along, but she tells him he’s hopeless at keeping secrets. Draconian troops enter the Hall of Mirrors and Kothar gives orders for everyone to be restrained -- except for Bev, who is to remain free.
Ambassador Kothar makes an planetoid-wide public announcement. He assures the people there is no need for panic and claims the Draconian Empire has reached an agreement with the directors of this facility to supply defensive forces during this time of peril. He claims the troops now storming across the Collection are there to protect them and no one will be hurt if they co-operate.
In the Hall of Mirrors, Bev and Bernice challenge Kothar’s authority. He‘s impressed by Bernice’s knowledge of the Judas Gift, since the legends were never fully committed to paper and were passed down orally through the generations of the House of Kaytar, so he fills her in on the missing details. The legends say the Judas Gift looks into the soul of the wearer and divines the truth of their actions. The innocent can remove it at any time, but for the guilty it’s immovable and remains on the wearer‘s arm as a mark of shame. Braxiatel argues that this punishment can only apply to Draconians who’ve committed crimes against noble blood, and that Bev had done no such thing, but Kothar points out that the gauntlet believes otherwise. The Judas Gift takes time to read its subject’s mind, which is why he had to distract them with a ruse about the Mim’s sentience. There was never any deadline, no academic argument was required, and even the phase cannons that Doggles spotted on the long-range scanning array were faked. It’s true that Kothar regards the Mim as animals, but he never believed they were less than sentient.
Kothar asks Bev what she saw, and she tells him about the man she used to love, a man on the run like her, doing whatever he had to do to survive. Kothar reveals that Ethan was his blood-brother, from the family that House Kaytar was exiled for adopting. Ethan thought that if he helped bring down the smugglers who were trading inside Draconian space, the Emperor might restore the family name. And Bev killed him! She assures Kothar that they were raiding a weapons facility on Ataxia and he was killed by guards, but Kothar slaps her angrily. He reminds her that she’s wearing the Judas Gift and cannot disguise the truth any longer. Under Draconian law, her lands are forfeit and her people indentured. He tells her there is nowhere she can run, but he’s failed to take into account that she’s every bit a politician as he is, and her subtext has bite. She calls for the computer to initiate a pre-prepared programme and suddenly the room is filled with a light so blinding that everyone is momentarily stunned. By the time they get their bearings back, Bev has gone...
Braxiatel hadn’t had time to finish repairing the defences he’d set up, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Bev has spent years on the Collection and as a former thief, she always had an escape plan ready. Within moments, she is fleeing in a stolen combat flier. Kothar demands to know where Bev has gone, but Bernice and Braxiatel don’t know any more than he does. He places a cordon around the planetoid and orders that any ship attempting to leave the atmosphere is to be shot down. Aboard her ship, Bev receives a proximity alert warning her of incoming vessels, so she changes course. Bernice, Braxiatel and Adrian try to follow the chase alongside Kothar, but the Collection’s monitoring systems have been disabled. Bev is forced to change course once again as the Draconians fighters get closer. If she can’t break orbit soon, the Draconians will have time to fix the scanners. She estimates she has between 45 minutes and an hour to make her getaway, but then the proximity alarm sounds again... She finally realises the odds are stacked too heavily against her and there really is no way out. Kothar is determined to kill her and he won’t rest until she’s dead, so the only question is, how does she want to die and how does she want to be remembered? She sets the computer on a random course that will take her over the planetoid’s surface, then she activates the black box recorder. An hour should just be enough for her to tell the truth about who she really is...
Kothar reports that the sensor-net should be restored any moment and offers the others the chance to persuade Bev to return to face justice. They refuse to co-operate -- it may not be an honourable way for Bev to die, but it does sum up who she is and how she lived. The cameras come back up and Kothar contacts Bev to tell her she’s being tracked and the fighter ships are closing in on her position. Bev taunts Kothar and challenges him to catch her if he can, then starts running. Kothar gives the order for the ship to be brought down. The fighter ships cut Bev off as she skirts the atmosphere and drive her into a flight path over the Mansionhouse. Braxiatel offers to make financial recompense for any crime Bev has committed if Kothar calls off his troops, but it‘s too late now. Adrian howls in anger as Bev’s ship flies over them and crashes into the mountain, exploding in a huge ball of flame. He tries to break free of his chains, but is stunned by a shot from the Draconians. Kothar declares that the Collection will remain under Draconian jurisdiction for the immediate future. Braxiatel argues that he has no right to do this, but Kothar reminds him that Bev was formally in charge and her lands are now forfeit. Kothar is confident they won’t want to challenge this in open court, as the revelation that the institute was run by a wanted criminal will damage their reputation. He tells them they are free to walk around the Collection, and if they prove their usefulness they may be rewarded with a greater level of autonomy. The court action against the Mim may have been a ruse, but the war itself is not, and Kothar plans to make use of every available resource he can find.
Despite massive condemnation, the Draconian Empire issues no apology for the loss of the Stonehauser Medical Facility. In fact, the only statement they release is to confirm that the Braxiatel Collection has been temporarily annexed, a move they claim has been done purely to guarantee the safety of its antiquities and its staff. Later, Braxiatel checks on Bernice and tells her the Draconians have finished examining the crash site; along with the remains of the Judas Gift, they found enough DNA to confirm that Bev was on board at the time. They also found the black box recorder from the flier, which apparently contains Bev’s last statement, but Bernice doesn’t think she’s ready to listen to it yet and she‘s certain Adrian couldn‘t. She asks Braxiatel to keep it safe so they can listen to it together later, when Hass and Joseph are back and everything is over.
“When you’re stranded, you do whatever you have to to survive. You make alliances, make friends and lovers. Do any dirty job to keep your head above water. I did all that and I’m wanted across half the galaxy for it. A pirate, a thief, a legend. But the truth is, it’s not the reactions of others that define who we are, it’s how we see ourselves. That’s something I’ve only understood these past few years. What counts is how we live, the choices we make, the people we choose to be. My name is Beverly Tarrant and this is who I am.”
Later, someone plays back Bev’s message, and programmes the computer to isolate the interference and then dig beneath it to find the sub-tracks. The message is played again, but this time it’s completely different:
“I hope you get this, Summerfield. I hope you remember to look for the subtext. I hope you heard that static and worked it out. Because there’s more going on here. Kothar couldn’t have known about Ethan...”
Back on Ataxia in 2957, Bev tells Ethan about her contact, Marcus Hall; then, on the count of three, they both race into the top security establishment, expecting to find themselves in a weapons bunker... but the place is completely deserted. Bev appears confused and checks her map -- but Ethan tells her not to bother. He draws out his gun and tells her that he already has everything he came for. He tries to shoot her, but the weapon doesn’t work and Bev reveals that she’d already removed the firing pin. Ethan realise the truth -- this place, a concrete box protected by a state-of-the-art security system, is nothing more than Bev’s private bolt-hole. It used to belong to her friend Anton. The laser-grid is real enough and so is the hole in her leg, because it had to be convincing enough for Ethan to believe her story. She trusted him, but Beyum had his suspicions. When the authorities started closing down the smuggling routes, he knew there was a leak. Ethan tells Bev he had his reasons, but assures her he never lied to her personally and says he genuinely loves her. She ignores him and leaves the concrete bunker, sealing the doors behind her, trapping him inside.
According to legend, the Judas Gift stays attached to the arm of the guilty until they confess their crimes, then it “cuts through their deceit to strip them of their nobility“. In terms of Draconian honour, this means they’re prevented from fighting with their left arm and are forced to fight right-handed like commoners. She knows there’s nothing mystical or supernatural about the gauntlet -- if it could actually see into her soul, it would have known what Ethan really sounded like, but all her memories have seen him speak in Adrian’s voice. The ‘talons of virtue’ simply carry an hallucinogen which Kothar had programmed to target old memories, but it couldn’t single out Ethan’s voice because the only voice she can remember is that of the man she loves. Ethan never had a chance to brief his superiors after the job on Ataxia, so Kothar couldn’t have known what she did. Someone else from her past, someone she once crossed, must have told him. Bev warns Bernice that the Draconians aren’t their opponents and someone else is using them, so she must watch her back. She tells Bernice that she’s planning to head for the edge of the atmosphere and if she bails out at the right time, there’s a good chance no one will see her. She plans to get on board a Draconian ship and beat the blockade. If she makes it, she’ll wait for Bernice at Port Royal, out past the Rim. She also has a message for Adrian -- that she loves him and she hopes to see him soon. There’s only one other thing she needs to say. It’s crucial that Kothar thinks she’s dead, or he’ll never stop hunting her. Now it’s time for the ‘talons of virtue’ to do their thing. She apologises to Ethan for leaving him alone to die, and then she confesses her crime, and the talons cut off her left arm...
Braxiatel switches off the recording, which he’s been listening to alone. He congratulates Bev on being very astute, particularly in warning Bernice that someone is using the Draconians and that she should watch her back. Then he instructs the computer to delete the message.