The Star Tsar is no more. Rumors have spread to every corner of the galaxy; retirement, assassination, and treason have proven the most popular speculations, but only one actual truth has emerged: the head of the largest civil organization in the galaxy, the omnipresent Trade Commissariat, must be replaced. The galaxy’s most powerful trade organization can only be leaderless for so long before the economy grinds to a halt. Steps must be taken to fill that void. Hints, vague at first, had been circulating about who the new Star Tsar would be. Some said the Emperor would make the obvious choice — a long-term senator, favored by the mega-corporations. Others, analyzing the Emperor’s more recent tendencies, pronounced it would be a crony of his, currently on the board of the Galactic Bank. No one was prepared for what the Emperor actually announced: to determine the new Star Tsar, there would be a trade competition. Anyone, any citizen of the Empire, would be eligible to compete.
The Emperor declared a convocation to be held at the imperial capitol on Laumer to reveal the rules for this unprecedented measure. Thousands flocked to the great amphitheater to hear the Emperor’s declaration. Millions more watched a live presentation on the trideo stations. Everyone wanted to know the criteria for the Emperor’s choice of a new Star Tsar. Unofficially, some of the rules had already filtered out: lone captains; single ships; it was to be about trade, not war, so no weapons were to be allowed. Little more had leaked, but it was enough to attract a cross-section of the galactic citizenry.
At the amphitheater, the crowds mingled together, awaiting the appearance of the Emperor. Small-time traders rubbed shoulders with corporate-backed pilots. Independently wealthy captains shared drinks with owners one payment ahead of repossession. Every economic class, all social strata were represented on the floor of the coliseum, each hoping for a chance for fortune, glory and the Emperor’s favor.
The competition would be open to any citizen, but looking across the floor — at the anxious faces, the calm demeanors, the nervous glances — a handful of people stood out from the crowd. Scattered across the amphitheater, they each had a certain something that set them apart from the others. Like that one, standing near the corner …