The last hours of his shift seemed to stretch unbearably into
half an eternity, although he was more than busy developing a
new drill schedule for his troopers and running all the routine
paperwork for Kaskalon. The lieutenant notoriously hated desk
duty, preferring to exercise with the platoon in the gym and on
the firing range instead. He really worked his men hard and himself
even harder, Marik thought, while slowly and painstakingly filling
out requests for supplies and ammunition, but their readiness
status spoke for itself. Apart from that frelling disaster with
the blaster cannon, he thought. I will have to watch Sergeant
Breel closer. He has been gambling a little too much with some
of the engineering chiefs lately. If it turns out he is neglecting
his tactical drills, I need to have a serious word with him.
Finally, with a heartfelt sigh, he punched the "print"
button for the last report form, then cast his datapad aside.
Returning to his cabin, he changed quickly into grey gym fatigues
and running shoes before spending an exhausting one and a half
hours on the jogging grav-pad and at some of the weightlifting
machines in the gym. Half an hour of target practice on one of
the pistol ranges completed his required daily training. Emerging
from the showers in the Cadet's quarters afterwards refreshed
and invigorated, but with a growing nervousness, he dried and
combed his buzz-cut reddish hair and began to change into a clean
standard-issue Navy Trooper uniform, which was black instead of
the ubiquitious olive-drab cloth that the Fleet and Army officers
wore. The uniform was much more comfortable than the starched
and ironed dress uniform he had worn the night before, consisting
of a tight undershirt, a padded jacket with black buttons and
tight, elastic cuffs, a set of loose-fitting trousers and combat
boots instead of the tall jackboots, the trouser legs being suspended
above the boots with metal braces. His forage cap would normally
have completed the outfit, yet now he was also required to wear
his gun belt, still being the official security detail leader,
so he donned this as well and checked that his personal blaster
was fully charged.
Being done and completely dressed, he made for the officers'
deck and arrived at the princess' cabin door, where two troopers
were still standing guard. When he returned their salute and palmed
the door contact, the nervous feeling in his stomach had multiplied.
Stop behaving like a frelling teenager, he mentally admonished
himself, it's just an invitation for dinner. To help her pass
by the time. Something that would be expected from a good security
detail leader, no more, no less. She is a princess and you are
In that moment, the door slid open, and he entered the room to
the sound of her soft, warm laughter. Surprised, he saw her resting
comfortably on the small sofa that decorated one corner of the
cabin, while Mahanian had occupied a padded armchair and was holding
a crystal glass with an amber-coloured liquid. An open bottle
was standing on the wooden table next to him. Obviously, he had
just said something funny, but when he noticed Marik, his face
immediately turned grave, and he gave him a stiff nod for a welcome.
"Syndic Mahanian." Two could play this game.
The princess nearly jumped off the sofa to greet him, crossing
the space between them with quick steps that she only slowed directly
in front of him, as if remembering only at the last second that
she should be acting rather formally. She was dressed in a comfortable,
dark blue overall that sported whites stripes on shoulders and
hips and wore soft canvas shoes. Her hair was done in the same
ponytail he had seen her with the first time.
"Cadet Duranges!" From her, the words really sounded
like she was happy to see him. Her smile and the look in her sparkling
eyes made the feeling in his stomach return with a vengeance.
"It is good to see you!"
"It is good to see you, too, your highness," he managed.
"I beg your pardon if I interrupted your conversation."
"You didn't. Silas was just telling me about how he gloriously
turned the battle of Tanaab single-handedly." She laughed.
"You know, Silas, someday I might tell a few friends in high
places about this."
"Please don't do anything like that, your highness,"
he said, laughing out and raising both hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Somebody has done that before, and they got ideas!"
Then she turned her eyes back to Marik, getting up from the sofa.
"Forgive the delay, Cadet. Should we go, perhaps?"
"If you are ready, your highness?" He nearly jumped
up as well, leading her out of the cabin and into the corridor.
The last thing he caught from Mahanian was a deeply disapproving
The Cadet's Mess was almost empty, four Navy ensigns and two
Flight Cadets from the ship's fighter squadron being the only
other persons present at this point of the day, all of whom were
known to Marik only from casual encounters. The looks they gave
him and the princess were both curious and a little jealous, something
that made him feel immensely proud, if a little uneasy. There
would be barrack rumors, for sure, and if those rumours reached
the Captain or Bjarnesson... . To subdue the unease in his stomach,
he focused on the girl, finding her a table in a far corner and
pulling back the chair for her, which she accepted with a thankful
nod and one of her stunning smiles when he sat down opposite her.
Up close, he could smell her sweet perfume again. In her blue
overalls, she looked much more relaxed and at ease than she had
the night before, and it also accentuated her slender figure,
something he silently appreciated. It was, he realized, the first
time he had seen her in casual clothes. He said so, which produced
more humorous laughter.
"Did you think I would do all my hyperspace traveling wearing
a shimmersilk dress?"
That made him laugh out as well. "You are right. I should
have thought of that, your highness."
"My name. Risha. Stop calling me 'your highness', for stars'
sake. Etiquette or not, it sounds like I was fifty years old.
While we're in private, Risha will do fine."
"As you wish, your... . Risha," he replied. For a second,
he had been completely taken aback, but she looked as though she
meant it, so he went along.
"Marik." He stretched out his hand, which she shook.
For the first time, they touched. Her skin was soft, warm and
dry to the touch, and the sensation of it against his own redoubled
the excitement in his stomach. And apparently she held the contact
a second longer than normal, only breaking it when a steward droid
approached their table.
The order she placed was the next surprise to him. He had expected
her to ask for wine or something equally posh, but she quickly
opted for Forvian ale instead. The longer he spent in the company
of this girl, he realized, the more he found that she did not
in the least resemble the cliché of a high-born, aristo
Core princess that he had expected from his first impression of
"Your parents," he finally said to break the silence
that had lingered for several seconds after the droid had left.
"Won't they be worried about you, with all the delay, I mean?"
"Right, they normally would be." She shrugged. "My
mother especially, she would turn over the entire galaxy single-handedly
to find me. You know how mothers can be sometimes." They
shared knowing smiles.
"Fortunately, Silas has thought of that. With the help of
your Captain, he has despatched a communiqué to Calabria
Prime to apprise them of our situation. We haven´t yet received
an answer, but I am sure my mother will be greatly relieved to
hear that we are all right and well."
"Captain Markas has permitted you to use the comms to inform
your family?" That was something of a first to Marik. The
long-range ship comms were usually reserved for encrypted military
traffic only, the transmission of personal messages absolutely
unthinkable with both Markas and Bjarnesson being the very devils
on security matters.
"It took a great deal of convincing your First Officer,
but Silas can be very persuasive sometimes, and after all, we
needed to inform the court in order to have all the appointments
and schedules adjusted for our delay, so we had kind of an official
reason." She winked at him conspiratoriously, but he was
rather amazed at how she made the words sound, so calm and everyday,
as if getting lost in space and being rescued from the hands of
a marauding Rebel fleet by the Imperial Navy in the nick of time
was no more than a minor displeasure to her, something that made
you... adjust the schedules. At that, a question occurred to him.
"So, what is it like, being a princess?"
"Why did I know you would be asking me this sooner or later?"
Laughing, she shook her head and brushed back a strand of golden
hair. "Sorry to disappoint you, but it is not really that
much to tell about. Stiff and boring, most of the time, lots of
formalities and etiquette, you know, with all kinds of ugly people
you have to put up with on a daily basis. Would you believe that
I have already turned down thirty-seven marriage proposals?"
"No." he managed, taken aback.
"The first came when I was sixteen years old, and almost
all have come from men who are stinking rich, vastly powerful
and at least old enough to be my father. Not to mention a few
really obese ones."
"I'm serious! And I am just Vice-Princess, second-born,
not even in line for the throne. You can imagine what it must
be like for my older sister. I think she stopped counting somewhere
beyond a hundred turn-downs."
"But what do your parents say about such... such offers?!"
"Marik, what do you expect?" she replied, suddenly
serious. "Things like these are commonplace among the Houses
of Calabria. Marriages are usually arranged between the most powerful
industrial Cartels, sometimes even while the persons in question
are but children still. Father gives my sister and me some liberty
of choice in that matter, but he can afford us to be so picky
only because our family is the Royal House, by ancient edict,
and therefore the most influental of all Cartels. My mother, on
the other hand, is very much into tradition, and she would have
liked to see us married years ago. Her own marriage to my father
was arranged when she was nineteen."
He paused, lost for words. The very thought of it was so utterly
alien to him, so debase, so in contradiction to everything he
had been brought up to believe, it beggared belief. It seemed
like a relict from the corrupt and decadent days of the Republic.
That's why she is so deadpan about returning to her family, he
suddenly realized. It doesn't feel like coming home, it must feel
like... going back to business.
"Now, let's talk about you."
He was grateful for the sudden change in topic, seeing that she
was clearly being haunted by memories.
"How comes you ended up pointing a blaster at me?"
"Ah, yes, I promised to tell you." He leaned back comfortably
in his chair. "Okay, long story short, I was born in a little
farming community on Crestheris, in the Outer Rim, almost the
other side of the galaxy. Middle of nowhere, basically. My parents
ran a store, selling supplies and consumables to the local farmers,
so I grew up around fields, grain and grazing Nerfs. Now, that's
me, the guy from out of the backwoods." A sheepish smile
accompanied his last words.
"Place can't be so bad if it produces handsome types like
you." Tilting her head to one side, she gave him a look that
made his stomach leap once more, and he felt himself beginning
to blush violently. He searched her face for a sign that she was
just teasing him, yet found none, which irritated him immensely.
"Problem was," he continued, trying hard to focus on
the story again, "with the place being so backwater, it was
bound to attract smugglers in search for a safe haven. At the
beginning, only a few ships would appear on occasion to land far
outside the village at nighttime, and sometimes the pilots and
crews even bought some food from us, downed a few drinks in the
local inn or traded some off-world goods that people needed. But
over the time, more and more ships came, and with the ships came
the bandits, the mercs, the cutthroats, gamblers and bounty hunters,
and scores of them. There were even rumours that Rebels were operating
out of the place, and that really got us scared. Sure enough,
we soon saw the first brawls, then it quickly came to beatings
and rapes. Then we had the first murder." He slammed his
fist into the palm of his other hand. "A girl I knew, a little
older than me, from my immediate neighborhood. She sometimes used
to help my mother in the store. She was barely recognizable when
they pulled her out of the pond."
She had fallen silent, her face serious, compassionate. "Then
what?" Her tone was hushed.
"We had a marshal in the village, and his deputy. No need
for more, you see - up to that point. They went to the smuggler
camp and demanded to conduct an inquiry. They got beaten within
an inch of their lives." He felt an echo of his own anger
and frustration return along with the memory. "That night,
an outlying farm burned to the ground. It was a message they wanted
us to clearly understand: 'Stay away!'"
"And did you?"
"Stars, no, we didn't even think about it!" he replied
with conviction. "We were afraid, sure, but we wouldn`t bow
to some offworld, sub-human scum. Not us, not our village. We
applied to the planetary governor and requested militia. But what
we got instead was more than we had hoped for."
"Imperial justice happened. Stormtroopers, Walkers, armour,
a multi-platoon operation. They swept the place clean in the space
of one night, smoked out the alien filth once and for all. I remember
staying up all night, watching the flashes of weapons and the
firelight beyond the treeline as the camp burned. The next morning,
the Stormtroopers marched the few surviving smugglers and Rebels
through our village, in chains and manacles, while our people
lined the streets. The cheers were deafening."
"I believe that. You see, I grew up around palace guards
and security advisors, but I have seen my share of assassination
attempts - aimed both at myself and others - to know mortal fear.
Being rid of such a threat to your village surely is a cause for
He nodded. "Then you understand why we felt we owed the
Empire. After the public execution of some smugglers and Rebels
in the main market square, an Imperial officer spoke out to us
in public. He said that law and order had been restored and that
we were now under the Empire`s protection. I was only a child
back then, barely twelve years old, and I didn't understand everything
of what he said, but it was like something from the holovids to
me. You know, he was the hero that had arrived to save us, and
now the evil men were gone and we would be safe, the kind of thing
that a child would believe. Of course, I later learnt that this
also meant they would leave behind a garrison and start collecting
tithes, but that was just fine with us villagers. For us kids,
it was even great fun. We would dare each other to sneak up on
the gate guards, or play 'Troopers and Rebels' out in the fields."
Now it was her turn to smile again. "I bet you were the
menace of your neighbourhood."
"To be honest, I was the menace of the village!" He
burst into laughter, which she joined. "And I bet you were
an awfully good girl."
"I was. Until I learned to walk. Then I truly became the
menace of the palace!"
"You? Not a chance I would ever believe that!" This
time, it was his turn to tease her. "Surely you were mother's
little darling, pampered and spoiled."
"Ah, well, yes, to be honest, I was," she replied with
badly faked seriousness, smirking. "But I´m trying
hard to make up for that now."
"Don`t try anything on my watch!" he grinned. "I
would hate having to hurt such a good-looking lady."
"Hurt me? You and which army? And don't try softening me
up with false compliments, unless you are really out for some
"I`m not joking," he said, serious, looking straight
into her eyes. "You are the most beautiful woman I ever met."
"And you are a shameless liar." Despite her words,
she was clearly taken aback by his confession, averting her gaze,
blushing, but quickly caught herself. "I believe your story
isn`t over yet?"
"Of course." He was momentarily unsure at the too-sudden
change of topic, wondering if he had gone too far. Cadet and Princess,
"The thing that truly left a lasting impression on me didn't
happen until a few years later. You see, our garrison troops were
rarely granted any downtime, but when they were, they usually
hit the inn, and that was where I got talking to some of the young
conscripts. Nothing special, just the usual. Where you from, what's
service like, how's payment? That stuff."
"I see." She nodded, the smile having miraculously
returned to her lips, to his immense relief. "What boys talk
about before they start drinking, singing and courting pretty
"Right. Turned out, these particular conscripts had come
not from one of the neighbouring planets, not even from a neighbouring
system, as I had originally expected. They had been recruited
practically on the other side of the galaxy and had seen training
in a facility in another entirely different corner of the Empire,
just to end up posted here, light years away from their home,
protecting people in a place they hadn't even heard of before.
That was when I started realizing." He touched the circular
imperial badge on his upper left arm to emphasize the point. "It's
about the Empire, the bigger picture, it's about dedicating yourself
to a cause that is greater than yourself, about making a difference.
It's about belief." He looked her straight in the eyes now,
searching for a reaction. "The Empire is such a cause. It
stands for law and order in the galaxy, for a peaceful coexistence,
for civilization and progress. For everything the corrupt Republic
and their Jedi were unable to provide. That's what I spoke about
earlier, a cause that is worth fighting for. That is worth being
sent to a place on the other side of inhabited space to protect
people you have never seen before. That is worth risking your
life in a TIE cockpit, on a Star Destroyer or wearing only a Stormtrooper
He slammed his hand on the table. "You see, that is what
the Rebels took from us when they threw the galaxy into war and
riot, and that is what we are fighting to reclaim. That is why
I am here. That is why I serve, hoping to see us victorious, to
see peace and order restored to the Empire one day."
He inhaled deeply. "Now, that's me. The Empire's man. Over
the stars and far away."
When he had finished, she was silent for a long while, leaning
back into her chair, clearly considering his words. She had yet
to speak again when the drinks were served. Both of them reaching
for their glasses at the same time, their hands brushed. Gazes
meeting as at an unspoken command, their fingers interlocked.
And stayed that way. He could have fallen into her eyes, the look
she gave him. Finally, she spoke.
"Where have you been all my life?"
It was hours later, halfway through the night cycle, after they
had finished their meal, several more drinks and hushed, familiar
conversation, that he led her, wordlessly, into a cavernous chamber
directly below the cruiser's outer hull, just a few decks lower
than the bridge, a chamber overarched by a dome-like cupola of
polished transparisteel. Beyond it, the twirling, distorted light-stripes
of hyperspace were visible, filling the room with their unreal,
distant glow. She stood in the middle of the chamber, just below
the peak of the dome, bathed in the ethereal half-light. "What
is this place?" Her voice was husky, awed.
"The auxiliary navigation observatory. The only place from
which you can see the stars with your naked eye while we're in
realspace. I sometimes come here when I need to be alone. Reminds
me of home."
He moved up behind her, following her gaze upwards to the streaming
starfield. Taking heart, he carefully laid his hands on her arms
that were hanging loosely by her side. She turned towards him,
mirroring the touch, looking up to him, her eyes now reflecting
the distant starlight. There were those dancing sparks again.
He was suddenly very aware of her perfume, of the warmth she radiated,
of her heartbeat he could feel against his chest when they pulled
closer into the embrace.
"I love you." The phrase suddenly hanging in the air,
he was unsure of who had spoken it. Maybe him, maybe her, maybe
both of them at the same time. It did not matter.
The kiss came. And lasted.
* * *
He finally let her go a corridor's bend away from her quarters,
holding on to her hands until the last possible moment. The ship's
artificial night period had drawn to an end and he had to be back
in time for the morning roll call, lest he wanted to be up for
disciplinary and punishment duty. She had promised to visit him
on his home world during his next shore leave, and already now
he desperately yearned for the time to pass until then. He had
not slept a single moment, but right then he wasn't in the least
tired, last night's adrenaline rush still lingering on. When Kaskalon
detailed him for another round of pointless and unnerving paperwork,
he couldn't have cared less. All he could think of was her.
Hours later, when an audible change in the ceaseless background
noise of the titanic engines and a sudden lurch in artificial
gravitation announced their return to realspace, he left his desk,
heading for her quarters. He knew she was going to depart aboard
her own ship as soon as the Crate reached her destination, and
he wanted to see her at least once more before she left, look
into her eyes, kiss her goodbye, tell her he loved her. And to
frell with Mahanian and any objections he might throw up.
In the corridor, meters from her door, he stopped in mid-step,
frozen, suddenly alert.
The sentries were gone.
Trouble. All his instincts immediately screamed alarm. Drawing
his pistol, he carefully edged forward, palmed the lock and rushed
the room with trained and practiced efficiency while the door
was still hissing open, surveying the scene across his swivelling
gun sights. It had barely taken the space of a breath.
The two troopers were sprawled on the floor, unmoving, unconscious,
bleeding. Pieces of the chair with which they had obviously been
struck were scattered all over the room, broken to matchwood.
Both blasters were gone. A quick check revealed the adjoining
bedrooms to be empty, as he had expected them to be.
He swore viciously, the icy knot in his stomach doubling its
Mahanian, this has to be his work! Apparently, the man had finally
lost his nerve and decided to make a run for it, whatever his
motives might be or what dark secrets he hoped to conceal by this
act of treachery, thus nevertheless betraying himself for what
he truly was. Rogue. Mercenary. Bandit. Rebel scum even.
And Risha? Great Stars, he must have taken her hostage!
Now, naked fear truly gripped his bowels, deeply sickening him.
Markas won`t negotiate! If that madman tries to play her as his
trump card to facilitate his escape aboard the yacht, he`ll get
himself - and her! - reduced to scrap soon as the turbos get a
For a second, he was tempted to call the bridge and raise the
alarm. Within seconds, the ship would be swarming with Troopers,
No way, he decided. Who knows what Mahanian is capable of when
he gets cornered. He might even be desperate enough to turn on
Quickly, he checked the life signs on both men, finding them
stable, although bruises, a smashed nose and a split lip indicated
they had not gone down without a fight. Even while he did so,
a plan was beginning to form in his head, his mind racing.
Mahanian has to be stopped before he can reach the fighter bay,
before he can get on board the yacht. I can`t trigger the alarm,
I don`t even have the time to call Lieutenant Kaskalon and ask
for reinforcements. I`m the only person with a chance to do something.
I even have an advantage - I know the layout of the ship, and
Mahanian will have to avoid the main corridors, lest he attract
too much attention. It`s up to me now, and me alone... .
While that last thought was still crossing his mind, realization
hitting him with the force of a sledgehammer, he was already running.
* * *
He turned the last corner before the hangar bay doors just in
time to see Mahanian emerge from a side passageway. He seemed
tense and worried, alarmed, looking around every few seconds.
In one hand he was holding a blaster, using the other one to violently
drag Risha along by his side. She looked frightened and shaken
and seemed to be struggling to keep up with his pace, but was
apparently unharmed, to Marik's limitless relief.
Better yet, if he intervened now, he could cut off Mahanian's
way to the hangar. Breathing deeply, he waited for another second,
then turned the corner, placing himself right in the middle of
the corridor, feet planted firmly on the floor, back straight,
pistol in both hands, a textbook firing range pose. His sights
came to rest squarely over the loathed face of his opponent at
a distance of no more than three meters. "Freeze!"
Mahanian was clearly taken by surprise at his sudden appearance,
the pointed gun and the roared command, but regained his composure
in a heartbeat. The blaster carbine in his hand came up halfway,
mostly by reflex, then he seemed to think the better and halted
the motion, although he immediately placed himself between Marik
and Risha, so as not to have her obscuring his field of fire.
He clearly had nerve, Marik had grudgingly to admit, staring into
the man's impassive, hard-eyed sabacc face, their eyes locking
in a contest of wills.
"Drop your weapon!"
"Brave move, boy." Calm, casual, smooth, as if he was
chatting over drinks, as if he didn't even care about the pointed
gun. "But you have no idea who you are up against. This is
a size too big for you!"
"You are not in the position to boast, mercenary scum! Drop
that blaster and release the princess!"
"And why should I do that? Because you say so, hero?"
The voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"Because you wouldn't get far even if you made it past me,
which I sincerely doubt you could. If you surrender now, I promise
I will put in a word for you at your trial. It might spare you
from the firing squad."
"And then what, young one? The Spice mines of Kessel? The
Hellsreach Penal moon? There's no way you'll ever see me going
"You're not going anywhere at all while the tractor beams
are powered up!"
"Well, thanks for sharing that information, kid!" The
words carried a hint of triumph, underlined by a thin, mocking
Stupid! Marik bit his lip, cursing himself for his outburst.
He realized Mahanian had been provoking him for a reason, and
he had been naive enough to fall for it. He wavered for a second,
struggling to regain the initiative.
"Drop. Your. Weapon!" He emphasized every single word
in turn, putting as much menace into each as he could muster.
"I won't tell you again!"
After a second of consideration, or perhaps of judging Marik's
determination from the look in his eyes, Mahanian threw the clattering
blaster on the floor and half-raised his hands, although the gesture
seemed to betray both reluctance and disgust. Was there a bead
of sweat on the dark skin of his forehead?
Reinforcing his grip on the blaster pistol, Marik nodded. "Very
well. Now step aside and release your hostage!"
Again, the older man reluctantly did as he was told, moving a
step to the side, yet never taking his eyes from the gun muzzle
pointed at his head.
"Risha, come to me, quickly."
She looked at him, clearly unsure, fear still written all over
her beautiful face. Slowly, hesitantly, she took one step forward,
then one more, then stopped, not daring to cross the deathzone
between Marik's weapon and her former aide.
"It's okay, Risha." He tried to smile encouragingly.
"I got him covered. Just come over here."
"Marik, I... " Her eyes were wide, mouth agape. She
"Risha. Come here."
"Marik, I... I am sorry." Slowly, she shook her head.
And took a step backwards.
It was then that realization struck him, painful, mind-numbing
and with icy clarity. He felt like he had been hit by a point-blank
stun-blast, yet merciful unconsciousness would not come, leaving
him alone with the hurt. It was all he could do to to keep his
composure. Even so, he staggered, shaking his head to clear his
"No...." he finally managed. "That is not true...
Not you too... !"
"Marik, please let me explain... ."
"You used me!" The words tasted like ash when he spat
them out at her, shaking with rage, the feeling of betrayal and
disillusionment almost more than he could stand. His finger around
the trigger tightened, but he wasn't so sure any more at whom
his weapon was pointed. "Was it fun playing me for a fool?
Softening me up so you two could make your escape all the easier?!"
He was almost screaming now, everything he had felt for her turning
into cold hatred by the second.
"Marik, please listen..." There was a note of desperation
to her voice now that he could have found touching if he wouldn't
have known it to be false. If it weren't for that killing rage
"No more of your lies, Risha! If that is really your name.
I should have known better than to trust you! Whose idea was this
anyway? Your own? Or yours, Mahanian? Did you set her on me? Well,
doesn't matter, anyway. Both of you are finished right here and
His pistol swivelled between the two of them once more.
"Boy, don't make a mistake now!" Mahanian cut in sharply,
the same second that Risha took two quick steps past him, raising
her hands in a placating gesture. "Marik, I swear to you...
She gave a shriek when Mahanian pushed her forward hard. She
stumbled, almost fell against Marik. Instinctively, he lowered
his weapon, extending both hands to catch her.
Before he had even time to react, the tall man had crossed the
distance, moving with a speed and grace that Marik had not thought
him capable of.
A thunderous right blow to the temple laid the young Cadet out
on the deck.
* * *
Concluded in Part Three