Gaheris Rhade walked into his quarters. "Andromeda, report!"
Andromeda shimmered into holographic life in front of him. "Yes, Commander?"
Rhade rubbed his forehead, a nervous gesture he would never allow himself outside his quarters. "Has the analysis of the Nietzschean's genes been completed?"
Rhade stopped himself sighing with frustration. "*And?* I'd like to see it."
"Yes, Commander." Andromeda disappeared and was replaced by Tyr Anasazi's gene map.
Rhade studied it for a moment. "Are you sure this is right?"
Andromeda reappeared on the viewscreen behind him. "Yes, Commander."
"Progenitor's thumbs! Can't you say anything else?" Rhade snapped. "No, don't answer that, I know what you'd say."
Her expression didn't change, but Rhade had the distinct impression that the ship was feeling smug. Part of the map lit up, and Andromeda finally said something new. "Mr Anasazi appears to have eighteen of the twenty four critical markers used by Paul Musaveni to identify particularly strong Nietzschean traits. By Nietzschean standards he's an 'impressive specimen'."
"Your medical profile indicates that you have only seven critical markers." Rhade was sure now that Andromeda was needling him on purpose.
"Critical markers aren't everything."
"They are to Nietzscheans."
"Enough! Engage privacy mode."
Tyr turned around. "Commander Rhade."
"I'm curious." And he was, positively *burning* with curiosity. "Why is a man of your… genetic stature living unmarried? My ship tells me your genes are excellent. A man with eighteen critical markers doesn't have to win wives; all he would have to do is make his gene map public and wait for the offers to roll in."
Tyr's eyes narrowed, and Rhade smiled. The slight emphasis on 'My ship' hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Any woman attracted in such a fashion wouldn't be worth breeding with."
Anasazi's arrogance grated, but Rhade could understand it. "Waiting for something special, are you? That's rather a risk for a mercenary. Some half-sized little kludge aligns the exotic matter drive wrong and your very impressive genes become a very small part of a rapidly expanding cloud of debris." Rhade only just managed to hold onto his stoic expression as he saw Tyr contemplating every Nietzschean's worst nightmare: dying childless.
Rhade walked off, calling over his shoulder; "Apparently I have over five hundred living descendants. I'm so glad I didn't save my virtue for a woman *worth* it."
Rhade found Tyr gazing at the remains of the Orca fleet, now heading to the nearest slipstream point.
"Well, that was the shortest marriage I've ever seen," Rhade said. "And I was once at an execution where the condemned man's last wish was not to die single."
Rhade realised he'd made a mistake a split second before Tyr lunged at him. The ensuing fight didn't last long: despite his superior genes and larger body mass, Tyr was over-stressed and lacked the advantage of High Guard training.
Rhade pressed down with all his strength. "Tyr, I apologise. That was a thoughtless remark."
Rhade paused. "It is difficult for me to see what has become of the Nietzschean people. Before the fall I had nothing but respect for the Orca Pride. To see them so reduced pains me, and I often use humour to ease such feelings."
"That was not humour."
"You're not the first person to find my jokes somewhat… lacking." Rhade rolled quickly off Tyr, and jumped to his feet.
Tyr stood up. "Had you been born Kodiak, that habit would have marked you as inferior."
Rhade chose to ignore the insult.
"Mr Anasazi, you appear to be almost chipper this morning," Rhade said, noting again that Tyr wasn't always as in control of his feelings as he pretended to be.
"What would you say to two new worlds for your Commonwealth?" Tyr asked, jogging backwards.
Rhade was immediately suspicious. "I'd say 'what's the catch?' and then I'd ask what was in it for you."
Tyr actually grinned. "The catch is that we have to play host to Elsbett Mossadim for a few days, and from what I've heard, she's an impossible shrew. And as for what's in it for me… the gratitude of Archduke Charlemagne Bolivar for delivering his bride."
"Nietzscheans." Rhade growled. "You want to bring Nietzscheans into the Commonwealth? I remind you that it was the Nietzscheans who brought the Commonwealth down, and the entire race has been in decline since then. I will not accept treaties with Nietzscheans."
"They don't want to join you," Tyr snorted. "However, they are prepared to turn over governorship of two slave worlds to the Commonwealth in return for Andromeda's protection. There are elements within both the Sabra and Jaguar prides that oppose this marriage."
Rhade stopped jogging. "A high-born female scion of the Sabra clan on Andromeda. That might be… interesting."
"I thought so."
"Planning on seducing her?" Rhade started running again.
Tyr shrugged, just slightly too casually for Rhade to be fooled. "Maybe. If I get bored."
"What are her genes like?" Rhade asked.
"Not as good as mine," Tyr said, laughing and loping off down the corridor.
"This is a pointless game," Tyr complained, glaring at the Go board.
"It teaches strategy, which is never pointless." Rhade moved another piece.
"Do not presume to lecture me, Rhade."
"My apologies. But do you have something better to do? Cleaning your guns? Teaching Trance to hurl herself into futile combat? Fussing over Harper?"
"I do not 'fuss' over Harper." Tyr countered Rhade's move, leaving himself open to attack.
"I've become rather fond of him myself. Have you ever taken a human lover?"
Tyr dropped the Go pieces he'd been rolling around in his hand. "*What?*"
Rhade bit back a grin. "I think five hundred descendants is enough to prove my worth, so I have decided to give non-procreative sex a try. I trust you don't have a problem with my courtship of Ms Valentine?"
"You're sleeping with *Beka?*"
"Yes, it's quite invigorating. But I suppose being celibate for over a year would make sex with anything pleasurable."
"I must remember to mention that to Beka next time I see her," Tyr muttered.
Rhade moved a previously ignored Go piece. "My game, I believe."
Rhade looked down at the mummified corpse of Drago Musaveni. The feeling of awe was countered by the knowledge that some day soon Tyr would betray him. "Our agendas are too different," Rhade told the corpse. "I wish to rebuild the Commonwealth; he wishes to unite the Nietzschean prides. One of us will have to die for the other to succeed."
Trance stepped out of the shadows. "Yes, one of you will."
Rhade looked up. "Which one?"
Trance cocked her head to one side. "I don't know. There's a lot of chaos coming; I'm not sure what I'm seeing."
Rhade pretended he couldn't hear Harper sniffing back tears. He stepped forward; aware of the irony of delivering the eulogy for a man he'd killed. "Goodbye Tyr Anasazi, out of Victoria, by Barbarossa. You were a treacherous, murderous, dangerous man, and I am proud I knew you."
He watched Tyr's coffin as it slipped away into darkness, then watched the darkness until he felt calm again.