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IN the 21st century, the United Energy and Transport conglomerate is the most powerful government on Earth. Beginning with control of North America, UET has begun to expand its reign, not only on the planet but out to star colonies.
UET did not develop star travel. When the alien Shrakken visited Earth they were slain by treachery; UET's labs copied the captured ship and began the exploration of interstellar space. Not all their ships return; dissidents speak of Escaped Ships and of rebel colonies: the Hidden Worlds.
UET's rule is harsh. At the age of five, Rissa Kerguelen and her older brother Ivan Marchant are consigned to a Total Welfare Center, after their parents are murdered by UET's Committee Police. Basically, Total Welfare is slavery with UET as the slaveowner. Eleven years later, by a quirky backlash of a Welfare supervisor's corruption, the man buying Official lottery tickets with Clients' money, she is not only freed but made rich. Escaping to Argentina, she undergoes survival training at the Establishment of Erika Hulzein. Then, in disguise as "Tari Obrigo", she buys her way off of Earth. At the minor UET colony world Far Comer she makes contact with a Hulzein agent and secures passage on the ship Inconnu, for the Hidden World called Number One.
Inconnu is the only armed ship ever to Escape; its captain, Bran Tregare, is called pirate and suspected of worse things; his behavior is arbitrary and arrogant. The battle of wills between him and Rissa ends short of affection but with mutual respect.
Arriving at Number One, Rissa falls afoul of the Provost, one Stagon dal Nardo, but finds haven at Hulzein Lodge,property of Erika Hulzein's younger sister Liesel and of Liesel's husband Hawkman Morey. Their daughter Sparline is also in residence. Rissa learns that Tregare the pirate is the son of Liesel and Hawkman, estranged from his family, and embittered that having enrolled him (at age 13) in "the Slaughterhouse", UET's Space Academy, they were unable to rescue him from that grim environment.
Rissa Kerguelen, product of Erika Hulzein's survival training, has little option but to accept a death-duel with Stagon dal Nardo. By her choice, both fight weaponless and nude. The man is twice her weight and inflicts painful injuries, but Rissa kills him. Dazed, she accepts Sparline Moray's word that it is necessary, "for political reasons," to marry an unnamed man -- but even though he is masked, she recognizes Bran Tregare. She accepts the marriage.
Hulzeins never make a move that serves only one purpose. Rissa has wagered, with a slightly shady business tycoon named Alsen Bleeker, on her survival in the duel with dal Nardo. The bet is for ten million Weltmarks (from "welt," the Deutscher word for "world"), five of Rissa's and five of Liesel Hulzein's. But that bet is still to be collected.
Rissa is still playing her disguised role of Tari Obrigo. Only the Hulzeins know her true identity.
Copyright © 1996 by F. M. Busby