As a young man, Rich Speyer thought he’d seen the last of the Maleficarum. At the time, he commanded the special joint task force responsible for the Sweep—the rounding up of the dissenters, the objectionists, the pacifists, the skulking members of the anti-party-party, and shuttling them off world to take their deviant ideas to the stars. Or to hell, for all Speyer cared. He’d been given the High Council’s blessing to act lawlessly to ensure the future of the law abiding, and he’d made certain the worst of the worst never made it to orbit.
The Maleficarum, with its cargo of freethinkers and revolutionaries, had no means of piloting itself. It was propelled by Earth-based lasers and sent plunging straight toward the nearest black hole. The Sweep was a glorious success. It was the catalyst that led to his presidency. And after 43 years, his power was as pure and certain as ever.
That is, it was until the Maleficarum returned.
Only the state-owned telescopes could detect it at this distance, but that would change. And even so, it undermined his authority with even the most faithful party disciples. He had to act.
He began by slaughtering his closest confidants wholesale, his highest ranking generals, his strategic advisors, even his closest relatives, distant as they were. This would consolidate intelligence and temper the ambitious. Then he went after the Maleficarum itself, firing enough antimatter warheads to devour even the most stubborn colony world. But they simply vanished, neutralized without a single detonation. And then the deathblow came. The ship hijacked the party communications array. They put out a planetwide broadcast.
Bring us Rich Speyer, or bring upon your death.
Speyer was many things, most of them terrible, but he was not a fool.
He retrieved his pistol.