"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data."-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

354, 1122.

On Louzy, leaving the Holey Spacesuit. Hunter: "Why are we leaving a place that serves alcohol, without drinking?" Cena: "Because we had one beer, and it was bloody awful." Hunter: "Hey, I've had worse." They continue walking towards the Ling Standard section. Hunter: "Are we expecting trouble?" Cena: "I brought you along, didn't I? Of course I'm expecting trouble." Hunter is only carrying five guns, since his pack is on board the Ruby. Hunter: "By the way, what's the chain of command here? Sorry, but I am a merc." Cena: "Well, I'm in charge of the expense money, and according to what you said on Regina, any issues involving incontinence. Other than that, you are the ranking officer..."

Robert sets the ship's computer to do a running search of the newservice for any stories with the passengers' names, just in case. He figures with Hunter and Ghaer out on the loose, their names are bound to show up with a report of a bar brawl, hit and run accident, giant radioactive lizard attack or something.

Hunter: "So, how do we know some of the local corporate boys weren't in on this? It could be bad, depending on how we present ourselves at Ling." Before Cena can answer, she, Hunter, and Ghaer see a trio of pickpockets working the crowd. They're doing the team thing, and fairly well. Hunter pinches Cena on the rump, to get her attention, and grins when she spins on him, arm poised to smack him one. Hunter: "You notice the action?" Cena: "Yes - small blonde female, tall brown haired guy, shorter black haired guy." Hunter: "Watch this." He heads right up to the female, cops a feel and says "Hey there, good looking. Up for some action?" The blonde smiles up at him. Blonde: "That depends. I'm always available for a good party." Hunter pulls out a $100 credit note and shows it to her. Hunter: "My friend and me are just off the ship, and ready to have some fun. If you can provide something for both of us." He indicates Ghaer, but not Cena. Blonde: "I don't know where he's from, but I'll see what I can do." Hunter: "We're from Moughas." The blonde's eyes light up - the marks from heaven! Blonde: "From Moughas? Really? I've never met a merc from Moughas before." The blonde makes a call, and she'll see what she can do. Blonde: "This could take a little while. Why don't you buy me a drink? There's a bar right over there."

Hunter and Ghaer go to the bar with the blonde, where Hunter buys a bottle of their "best whiskey", after the bartender carefully checks out the money to make sure it's legit. Cena sees the two men who had been working with the blonde go down the alley behind the bar. Cena goes around the block to the other side of the alley, as the blonde asks Hunter to "tell me all about Moughas".

Cena uses the dumpsters as cover, and spots the men about five feet or so off the ground on a fire escape landing, passing a bottle back and forth. They're right beside the back door of the bar. No visible weapons. They don't look like they're waiting, just hanging out. Cena looks up and sees some children (10 to 13 year olds) peer over the lip of another building, then pull back. She takes out a five credit note, and holds it so the kids can see it, then she hangs it on the end of their fire escape ladder. Two of the kids scramble down and snatch the bill, with great ease. They go back up, and Cena shows a second bill, getting two of the kids to come down, but stay out of reach. (Good grief - the Monkey Children of Louzy?) Boy: "I'm not going back to that soup kitchen again. Did they send you after me?" Cena: "Nope. Believe me, I'm not with any soup kitchen. I'm looking for a little information." Boy: "Okay." Cena: "Those two guys down the alley there, have you seen them work this area before?" Boy: "Yes." Cena: "Besides the sidewalk dip action, what do they usually get up to?" Boy: "Oh, the usual. Some cons, a few hustles, some rolls when they get the numbers. The brother routine mostly. You know, Brenda takes some guy to a hotel room, and then they burst in and catch him with his pants down. He doesn't want the pictures going to his wife and kids, so he just forks over the money instead of calling the cops." Cena hands off the money, and thanks the kid.

Inside the bar, Brenda has made contact with 'her friend'. Brenda: "We're going over to her place to party. Her roommate won't be back for hours." Hunter: "Great! I'll go get my friend." He goes over to Ghaer and tells him of his 'clever plan' to go with the local girls, expecting them to try to roll them. Ghaer: "And this is your plan? To let them roll us?" Hunter: "Yeah, but they think we're from Moughas. They won't be expecting hard asses from Regina. And I've got these." He pats his gun, waves to the girl, then goes to the bathroom to remove the fragmentation sleeve from his grenades, as they might be in the same room should it be required. Then he comes out, ready to party! Ghaer has serious misgivings about this, but he'll go along with Hunter for now.

Since the men in the back alley have apparently settled in for a while, Cena goes around front and into the bar, and enters it as Hunter's new little blonde friend takes him out the back door, followed by Ghaer. Cena calls Hunter's phone as she heads for the back door, which Hunter answers and then drops as the two guys on the fire escape dive for Hunter and Ghaer. Ghaer's opponent is the one with the bottle, and the fight is on.

Robert's commo goes off with Cena's number on it, so he calls her. Cena's phone is set on vibrate, and it does, as she goes out the back door. Hunter has backed off as his first move, and the bad guy goes down and uses a leg sweep on Hunter, but not effectively. Hunter is probably going to have a bruise, but he's fine, he doesn't go down. Other than that, no problem. Brenda is standing slightly behind and to the side of Hunter, arms in front of her, but no visible weapons. The first person Cena sees is the guy lofting the bottle back to hit (he's aiming for Ghaer, but she thinks he's aiming for her), so she thumps him hard in the chest, right over the heart. He goes down like a rock.

Ghaer says "Look out!", as he leaps to 'protect' Brenda, who says "Quick! This way!" She heads down the alley, to the right. Ghaer lags behind, and the girl continues on around the corner. Ghaer takes the corner wide, like a Regina corner. That's awfully unsporting of him!! She's with her back to the wall around the corner, and can't clothesline him, so she runs for it toward the street. Ghaer <yelling so that everyone on the street can hear>: "Wait! We can cure that! You don't have to have Herpes 3!"

Back down the alley, Hunter looks quizzically at the silly man on the ground, then punt kicks the guy in the side of the head, with his heavy military boot. Hunter raises his arms in the field goal position. Goal! Then he darts back to one side. Hunter hears Cena's fan club tittering, thinks they're laughing at him, so he takes out a handgun, screws on a suppresser, and fires over the kids' heads. Cena: "Hunter!!! How am I going to make local contacts if you shoot at them?" Hunter: "They were laughing at me!" Cena: "They were laughing at the idiots!" Hunter: "Oh. <yelling up> Sorry!" Sheesh. Hunter cuts off the unconscious idiots' clothing, and finds one of them has twelve watches and five wallets, in a cut in the lining of his coat. Cena checks out the downed men, and neither one of them will be regaining consciousness soon, and the one she hit possibly has internal bleeding. She repositions him in the most medically correct position, on his side - they'll have to send for medical help on the way out of the area, from a payphone.

Now, as to what else to do with the unsuccessful muggers. Hunter: "I say we interrogate them, and see what we can find out." Cena: "Neither one of them is going to be conscious soon, and I don't think any of us is an experienced interrogator." Hunter: "You can bring one of them around. And we'll just threaten to throw him into a shark pit or something." Ghaer: "I didn't bring a shark pit. Did you bring a shark pit?" Hunter: "I'm sure there's a local equivalent." Cena: "What exactly did you hope to find out from these guys?" Hunter: "Well, the name and location of the blonde chick, for one." Cena: "Her name's Brenda." Hunter stares at Cena. Hunter: "Brenda? How'd you figure that out??" Cena: "I asked my contacts." She indicates the roof with the kids on it. Hunter: "Okay, from now on, Cena - you're in charge of the city stuff, and I'm in charge of the shooting large numbers of people stuff." Hunter takes out a pen and writes "Mugger" on a piece of cardboard, and props it up by the unconscious men. Hunter checks out the obviously stolen watches, to see if any of them look particularly valuable. One of them reads "To Frank, on our anniversary, love Mary", but nothing really significant.

Cena finally answers her phone, which is still vibrating. Cena: "Hello?" Robert: "You paged?" Cena: "I did?" She accidentally hit the 'group page' button when she was phoning Hunter. Cena: "Oops! I'm sorry." Robert: "Is everything okay?" Cena: "Yes. Just fine. Oh, by the way, could you get some local system and area navigational maps? I'll reimburse you." Robert: "How far out?" Cena: "One or two...of those things I can't remember the name of right now..." Robert: "One or two parsecs?" Cena: "Two parsecs will be great." She rings off, and Robert will be able to get the maps for $30 credits.

Hunter calls up to the roof gang, asking if "anybody up there interested in a hundred credits?" Voice from above: "Okay man, we're sending some one down, but if you make any trouble you'll be sorry." They show a Molotov cocktail over the lip of the roof. Hunter: "These kids show real potential. I've got to try to get them." Cena: "No! Don't upset the fragile ecosystem!" Hunter: "No, no - I'm thinking recruitment here. Now that I'm retired, I've got to think about the future." Cena only thinks about throttling Hunter. A boy comes down to get the money from Hunter. Boy: "Hey mister, you said a hundred credits." Hunter: "That's right. For information." Hunter shows the money. Cena: "Whatever happened to 'from now on you're in charge of the city stuff'?" Hunter: "Right. Just getting things set up for you." He gives Cena the $100 credit note, and backs off. Hunter goes off down the alley with Ghaer and lights up one of his Galoise rejects. He gets a good price on his tobacco; no one else wants them.

Boy: "What's his problem?" Cena: "We all have our crosses to bear, and evidently he's mine." Boy: "Cute. So what kind of information do you want?" Cena: "Brenda - do you know where she lives, or a last name?" Boy: "Yeah, but why do you want to know?" Cena: "We're here looking for information, we're looking for some one, and we hope she'll be a good source of information. That's all, we're not going to hurt her." Boy: "Well, she's Mikie's older sister." He looks up at a small blond-headed youth on the roof. Boy: "I can tell you where she lives, but only if the guys aren't going to rough her up." Cena: "She's not going to be hurt. You have my word." Boy: "It's 68th and Johnson, the walkup. 1605B." Cena hands over a hundred credits, but in small notes out of her own funds; being seen trying to use that large a note wouldn't be good for the kids. Boy: "Thanks. Hey lady, what's your name?" Cena: "It's Cena." Boy: "Well, if you're in the neighborhood, we'll see you." Cena: "It's a deal."

Cena meets up with Hunter and Ghaer. Cena: "We have a name and an address." She passes on the info. Cena: "But why exactly we're going after her is beyond me." Hunter: "Hey, if for no other reason, did you get a load of the bounce in her step when she was running off?" Cena: "Well, no, since A - she had her back to me, and B - I don't swing that way." It's decided to save Brenda for later, once they figure out what to ask their new source. Hunter: "Where to now?" Cena: "Ling Standard. Please God." Hunter: "Lead the way." Cena: "We do need to call in and see that the guys in the alley get some medical attention soon." They go a few blocks away, to a public phone, and decide to call the bar the blonde took Hunter into, but Hunter can't remember the name. Hunter: "I was otherwise occupied." Fortunately, Cena remembers the bar was called the Headless Horseman. Cena calls the bar and tells them "There's a couple of guys out back making a hell of a mess." Bartender: "Hey, thanks!" He slams the phone down and yells to the bouncer to go check it out. Well, maybe they'll call for medical assistance.

Hunter decides that he's wearing Cena's patience thin, so he decides he shouldn't go to the Ling meeting, and will be better off at a bar. Cena: "Good idea! Why don't you call Bob at the ship, and have him join you? And Ariana too if you want." Hunter: "Hey, good idea. He may be Navy, but it's a good idea to bond with him, so he's less likely to just run off on us." Hunter leaves, and calls the ship. Ariana comes bouncing up to Robert a few minutes later. Ariana: "I'm going to go have a drink with Hunter. Do you want to come?" Robert manages to not explode over the possibility of Hunter shanghaiing Ariana, and tells her that he absolutely will be going with her. They aren't expecting deliveries today, and the ship will be fine.

Finally off to the Ling Standard section, and to Ming-Na's ship, the Black Pearl. The ship is sitting outside the Ling compound, on the perimeter. Since it's a D class starport, the only thing to do is walk up and knock. Ghaer: "Ahoy the ship. <aside to Cena> That puts them at ease, so you can steal from them later." Cena: "Why do I go anywhere with men?" Cena requests to speak with Lee Pang ( Ming-Na's personal assistant), and they are cycled through the airlock into the clean air, and the scent of water. Ooh, nice. They are met by a man in very traditional Chinese attire, with a silk jacket. Ghaer likes the ensemble. Retainer: "I will show you to Mr. Pang?" Cena: "Yes, please."

Ghaer and Cena are escorted into the ship, to a small oriental garden with cushions on the floor. Very much like the Tea House on Regina Up. Very nice. The retainer looks at their feet, but doesn't say anything. Cena removes her boots, and Ghaer stays just outside the park, where he can hear, but deferring to his 'leader'. He feels the air blow, then feels the music. It's an epiphany. His fur lays down, and he feels all sort of tingling and happy. There's a Barlow Flute Tree in the garden.

The retainer motions to some cushions, and Cena takes a seat. Retainer: "I will bring Mr. Pang." He leaves, and then a big Oriental man comes in. Really big. He's 6'3", looks like a bodybuilder, and has a very long braided queue. Cena stands as he approaches and bows. Pang: "You asked for me?" Cena: "You are Mr. Pang?" He nods. Cena: "Then yes." She hands him the letter of introduction from Corina. He sits down, takes out a writing tray, and reads the letter.

After a few moments. Pang: "So you are Corina's retainer?" Cena: "Yes." Pang: "What do you wish of us?" Cena: "I need to speak with you about your patron's disappearance." Pang: "Yes. You may speak freely here." Cena: "What can tell me about her movements before she disappeared. Here on planet - who she spoke with, where she went." Pang: "We thought we were just stopping here on the way to an audience with the Arch Duke. We were only supposed to be here for a couple of days. She went to the Ling office and did some business, she spoke with the general director here, but mostly she used the offices to transmit messages. This is normal. The next day, it was the normal ship's routine, until the afternoon when she announced she wanted to go out, and asked to be taken to a place called the Holey Spacesuit. She got down from the palanquin, walked over to a table, and had a conversation with a man. He was about 6' tall, human, short brown hair, late thirties, spacer tan, worn but good quality vac suit. She spoke with him for about 30 minutes. He used a calculator, she handed him an envelope. No money was visible, but it was of a size that might have contained money. She walked across the room, didn't speak to anyone else, and we returned to the ship. It was the next day that we had the conversation where she mentioned the Black Zone. I don't know what the significance of that was, but it might have been the code name for a company project, or a personal project; she has an affinity for the color black. The Black Pearl?" Cena: "Yes, I understand." Pang doesn't understand why she left her staff. He's worked for her his entire life. Pang: "If she told me to die for her, I would. If she told me to kill for her, I would. If she told me to forget something, I would. If she told me to take memwipe, I would." Cena: "do you know if she took any personal belongings with her?" Pang: "Not the items that we think of routinely as being hers. It doesn't look like anything in her cabin has been disturbed." There were no signs of significant items being missing. Pang: "What we don't understand why this happened as it did. The crew can say that less than 24 hours had been missing (which means probably not memwipe), and they don't know why they don't remember anything after she entered the room. Pang: "The general director here on planet does not have a reputation for being some one with ambition. He's sort of retired in place. He's probably phobic about being promoted." Cena: "One of the reasons I was sent is that I'm a physician. If possible, I need to at least take a look at her medical records, in case there's something I need to know. I do already know that she uses anagathon." Pang: "That you will have to discuss with her doctor." Cena: "That's fine." Pang: "Do you have any more questions for me before you speak with the doctor?" Cena: "Yes. Does she have any specific likes or habits that might be useful for tracking down her location? Something that she would not, by choice, go without?" Pang: "Not really, just her drugs. If you stripped her of everything but the Ling name, and threw her out onto the street half naked, she would be running the planet in a week. In some ways she appears to be very frail, and in others she is very strong. It would probably do her some good to be stripped of everything and have to start over again." Ah yes, success can be so boring. Cena has no more questions for Pang, and he can't think of anything else that might be helpful. Ghaer: "Pardon me, how long have you had the flute tree?" Pang: "It's older than I am. She has always had it as far as I know." Ghaer: "I have not seen it's like in many years." Pang leads the way to the doctor. Nice ship, cushy carpets, washed silk on the walls. Cena could get used to this.

Doctor LaFollette is not wearing oriental clothing. He's wearing an Armani suit. LaFollette: "So you're the Ling action team?" Cena: "I suppose you could call us that." LaFollette: "Ah, and confident of your abilities, too. How may I be of assistance?" Cena: "I would like to at least take a look at your employer's medical records." LaFollette: "No." Cena: "I already know that she's an anagathics user." LaFollette: "Yes." Cena: "When did she have her last dose?" LaFollette: "She had a dose the morning she disappeared, which was approximately seven weeks ago." Cena: "When would she normally be due for her next dose?" Doc: "The next day." <pause> Cena <to Ghaer>: "Would you excuse us?" Ghaer steps back. Cena closes the door.

Cena: "The next day?!" LaFollette: "Yes." Cena: "What dosage?" LaFollette: "She uses an experimental version of anagathon, from the Rim." Cena: "Are there any doses missing? Could she have taken a supply with her?" LaFollette: "Not enough to have survived this long. She's a unique patient, that's why I'm here. I'm from the Rim, and it's an interesting synergy with the anagathon, and you just don't get this kind of research opportunities or funding in the Rim; certainly not the patient type." Cena: "So she's either found another source, or another option, or she's dead." LaFollette: "Her health was declining. I think the drug was less effective than it had been." Great - a very rich, very old, very ruthless, and possibly very desperate woman on the loose.

On the way to the bar, Robert and Ariana go in search of an MMU for the ship. Nothing new, but they are able to find a used one for $600 credits. It needs some minor work, but it's certainly serviceable. It will be delivered to the ship with the rest of the ship supplies, tomorrow. Robert sends a message to the ship, letting the engineer know that he's to check out and service the MMU once he returns.

Hunter has been waiting at the Holey Spacesuit for Ariana and Robert. It's a happening place, and Hunter likes being around people. Besides, he already got to boot the mugger, so he's in a good mood. Woman: "Hey mister. You're taking up a table." Hunter: "You mean by myself?" Woman: "Yeah." Hunter: "Well, why don't you get rid of these two monkeys and join me?" Woman: "They're from my ship. I work with them, I'm not with them." Hunter: "Bartender! Here's twenty credits to buy these gentlemen a drink at the bar. <to the female> Just off the ship?" Woman: "Like you're not?" Hunter: "Why? Do I look like I grew up on this bunghole?" Woman: "No." Hunter: "Then let's start over. Hi. My name's Hunter. What's yours?" Woman: "Ann." Hunter: "Ann. What's your poison?" Ann: "White wine."

Hunter buys her a drink, and makes pleasant conversation. Maybe he'll get lucky, maybe not, but he's not concerned about it, since he's in a good mood. A few minutes later Ariana and Robert come in, and Hunter waves them over. Everything goes pretty well until a longshoreman bumps hard into Hunter, who shoves back, and Ann goes to the restroom as the fight breaks out. The nearby tables pull their extra chairs in, leaving about four feet of fighting space for Hunter and his new friend. The longshoreman kicks Hunter in the same knee as the mugger earlier (maybe aiming for the bootprint). Hunter takes exception to this. Hunter <pointing behind his opponent>: "Look! It's the Denzetti blimp!!" He looks. (Well, he's never seen a blimp...) Hunter hits the longshoreman in the back, hard. The man doesn't fall over, but he did feel it. Then he kicks Hunter in the other leg very hard. Robert thinks he's seen the stance the other guy's using before, on the tri-dee. Hunter returns the favor with a shin scrape, and then gets the initiative, finally, hitting the man in the same leg again, dropping the guy. Hunter briefly considers kicking the man in the ribs, but decides to not anger the man's friends. He gives the man a hand up, which is taken. They've bonded now. How sweet.

The bartender puts down the baseball bat, since nothing's being broken. Ariana: "I don't get it. What was that?" Robert: "It's a grunt thing. The Marines do this all the time." He's not sure if the liquid dripping off Hunter's side of the table is melting ice or testosterone. Hunter: "I'm sorry about that, but I just won't have men making off-color comments about women in my presence." Robert's jaw drops. Hunter's in rare form. Hunter: "Ice, please. No! Not for the drink! What were you thinking man?" They give him some plastic ice balls (water being valuable on this desert world), and he orders a cold beer, in the can, for his hand. Ann knows this place, so she knew that in the time it took to go to the bathroom and wash her hands, she'd know whether the fight had spread to the point that she should leave out the back door. It wasn't, so she returns to the table.

Hunter: "Ann, meet Bob, the pilot. Hey, Ann's off a ship too." Robert: "What ship?" Ann: "One of the freighters." She works for Naasirka. They're doing some repair work on the freighter in dock. Robert: "Pirates?" Ann: "No. Ling Standard dumped some garbage out in front of us. Some of the garbage wasn't exactly what you'd call in small pieces." Robert explains he's got a Delta Research Extended Scout Courier - obviously more maneuverable than the freighter. Robert: "It must get boring working on a freighter after a while." Ann: "That's okay, I prefer my 10,000 tonner." Hunter: "Wow, Bob, hers is bigger than yours." Robert: "It happens." Hunter: "A lot of the time, I imagine. But I bet our Bob is crazier than your pilot." Ann: "I can imagine." Hunter <to Robert>: "Have you heard anything from our furry friend and la dottora?" Robert: "No, last I heard they were with you." Hunter: "Ann, you're going to love this Vargr friend of mine. He looks just like that squirrel thing on tri-dee..." (Hey, that's fairy Barlow thing, thank you!) Robert: "Ling-Ling." Hunter, and everyone else at the table stare at Robert, who now has to explain why he knows about the kids' shows. Robert: "What? You try spending three years on interdiction duty."

Meanwhile, back on board the Black Pearl... LaFollette: "I believe her reaction to the drug was attenuated, and she was beginning to see some central nervous deterioration." Cena: "Since when?" LaFollette: "Fairly recently. About the last month, which is why I hadn't tested her yet." Cena: "So she would've been well aware of her condition?" LaFollette: "What do you mean?" Cena: "She is, apparently, a very intelligent woman." LaFollette: "Yes." Cena: "She's going to know that something's wrong." LaFollette: "Probably." Cena: "Did she ever discuss other options with you?" LaFollette: "No." Cena: "If she is still alive, by some miracle or other, is there any other condition - other than the anagathon addiction - for which she would require treatment?" LaFollette: "No. Her ailments were all related to advanced age." Cena: "Is there anything you can think of that might help to locate her?" LaFollette: "No, we're not near New Havana, where she might be smoking herself to death." Cena: "I take it she's a cigar smoker?" LaFollette: "She would be if I let her." Cena: "Does she have a preference?" LaFollette: "Only the good stuff. But I mean, face it - I'm her employee. If she decided she was dying and she wanted to smoke herself to death, there's nothing I could do about it." Cena: "I don't think I have any other questions, but there is the issue of identification. If she's alive, or in the worse case, deceased, the family would like the body returned to them." LaFollette: "I could give you a picture of her...No, I suppose that wouldn't be enough if it's her body you're trying to identify. I'd give you her dental records, but then you'd just be able to track down her teeth, since they're dentures. Wait a minute, there is one thing. Would a fingerprint do?" Cena: "That would be fine, yes." LaFollette provides Cena with a copy of Ming-Na's fingerprints. LaFollette: "There's one other thing before you leave." Cena: "Yes?" He reaches into the refrigerator behind him, and pulls out a small, self-refrigerated box. LaFollette: "Here's a week's worth of Anagathon C. And if you can't find her, destroy the box, and the drug. It would be dangerous to anyone who didn't have her resistance to the drug." Hmmm, Anagathon C? And now Cena's pocket is vibrating again. She takes the box, thanks the doctor, and rejoins Ghaer. And then she answers the phone. Cena: "Hello?" Hunter: "Hey, Cena! Where are you babe? You've got to come down and meet the whole gang!" Cena: "Hunter, where are you?" Hunter: "I'm not sure. I'm in a bar." Cena: "Which bar?" Hunter: "I don't know. It's a crowded bar." Oh, that's helpful. Cena: "Are you in the same bar you went to with Brenda?" Hunter: "I don't know." Cena: "Is Robert there? Bob? Bob the pilot?" Hunter: "Yeah, Bob's here." Cena: "Okay, is he more sober than you are?" Hunter: "I don't know. Maybe." Bob has, in fact, been emptying the glass Hunter fills into the nearby, now heavily intoxicated, plant, so he's in pretty good shape. Cena: "Hunter, give Robert the phone." Hunter <to Robert>: "Hey man, she wants you. She wants you bad, I'm telling you." This is, of course, loud enough for Cena to hear. Robert is enjoying seeing Hunter drunk. Robert: "This is Robert. Or Bob the pilot, if you prefer." Cena: "Which bar are you in?" Robert: "The Holey Spacesuit." Cena: "Good. We'll be right there." Robert: "Take your time. I'm waiting for him to pass out."

As they're heading back, Ghaer asks: "Is her medicine still working for her?" Cena: "Not really." Ghaer: "Where does one turn when one has no more hope from the medical profession?" Cena: "It depends on the person." Ghaer: "True. Alternative medicine, Chinese herbal medicine, religion?" Cena: "It also depends on whether the person is capable of accepting death. Are they able to accept it and try to find ways of dealing with the inevitable? Or are they going to go off and do anything to or for anyone for whatever offers the faintest glimmer of hope? Do they feel they deserve to keep living, and the hell with the cost?" Ghaer: "I think that should be a yes, in this instance. I believe this person does feel that way." Cena: "That's incredibly sad." Ghaer: "Yes it is." Cena: "It also means God only knows what she's gone off to do." Ghaer: "It gives us something to look for."

Ghaer: "That tree on the ship, have you seen one before?" Cena: "Yes, in the park on Rhylanor." Ghaer: "I've seen them before they were transplanted. They're Flute Trees. Have you noticed my dye job?" Cena: "Yeeess. I haven't been struck colorblind." Ghaer: "That's where I got it." Cena: "Where's how you got it?" Ghaer: "The same place the trees come from. It overwrote my base DNA in about an instant. That was one of the medical bays." Cena: "One of the medical bays of...? What?" Ghaer: "A ship so large and old it might as well have been a planet." Cena: "Do I want to know? I have signed the Imperial Secrets Act. Repeatedly." Ghaer: "This thing is capable of taking years off of some one's age. How old am I?" Cena: "I don't know. You're orange and black, and fluffy, and sort of rounded - makes it kind of hard to tell." Ghaer: "I'm 35. I haven't felt this good since I was a teenager. There is something I think we should do, but I'll wait until we're all together."

Speaking of the rest of the merry band... Hunter: "Bob, do you know what this is all about, by chance?" Robert: "No, we just picked up the contract to transport." Hunter: "But I really want to tell you. It's really interesting." Robert: "I'm pretty much in the dark." Hunter: "You're probably better off not knowing, it involves megacorps." Robert: "Doesn't everything?"

Ghaer has a thought, so he and Cena stop at the Ling corporate office, and the fluffy harmless one gets an information on Ling Standard's history, past CEO's, etc. For a research paper he's writing. For school. Really. It works to have big, soft brown eyes. They leave with a lot of info. Ming-Na is very, very old. How old, no one may be able to say for sure. Ghaer: "She's young, in mind." Cena: "I wouldn't say anyone like her is young in mind." Ghaer: "Okay. Not young, active."

Hunter: "This megacorp GD has gone right off her nut." Robert: "So?" Cena and Ghaer arrive just in time for Hunter's tirade on changing diapers. When he sees Cena he then tells Robert It's some really old woman who's gone missing. Cena tips Hunter's chair back so he's looking up at her. Hunter: "Nice view. Sort of like the sun rising between the mountains." Sigh. Ann, who has had Hunter pouring her drinks, rushes off to the bathroom, looking green. Cena: "Hunter, I think we should go back to the ship now." Hunter: "Are you wearing underwear? Cause I can't see a pantyline." Cena: "Yes, I'm wearing underwear." Hunter: "You know, I'll bet I can guess your bra size. It's a gift."

Ghaer has spotted man who fits the description of the man Ming-Na met with, over at a table playing solitaire. Ghaer tells Cena. Hunter gets up to go use the men's room, and Cena asks Ghaer "would you mind?", indicating some one should go with Hunter, since he's three sheeps to the wind, and rather talkative. Hunter: "Hey, I'm a big boy, and I wouldn't want Ghaer to put his back out." Hunter staggers off. Ghaer does go along to make sure no one mugs Hunter.

Cena walks over towards the solitaire player. Robert watches to see if anyone who's watching Cena looks like they have anything on their mind but normal lustful interest, and it doesn't appear so. Cena has seen this obtuse, complicated solitaire game before. Cena: "I've tried playing this game, but I always lose." Player: "So does he." He points to the other man who has been giving advice about playing. Cena: "Could I have a word with you? I hate to interrupt your game." Player: "Business or pleasure?" Cena: "Business, potentially." The other spectators are shushed off, and leave, grumbling. Cena <indicating a seat>: "May I?" Player: "Please. Can I get you a glass?" Cena: "Yes, thank you." Thank God, it's not the local crap. Cena: "I believe you may be able to provide me with some information. I'm on planet looking for someone. Her family is concerned, and no one's been able to make contact with her for weeks." Player: "You've obviously gotten me confused with some one else. I'm not a bounty hunter. I can give you a couple of names if you like, maybe point you in the right direction." Cena: "I'm not looking for a bounty hunter. I'm looking for someone who fits your description who spoke with her before she disappeared. I'm willing to pay for the information." She shows him a photo of Ming-Na Ling. Player: "Yeah, I remember her. What do you want to know?" Cena: "What did you talk about?" Player: "I plotted a jump point for her." Cena: "That's what I need to know then." Player: "It was $25,000 for her; if her family wants to know, it'll be $50,000." Cena: "As long as that includes background information on the jumpoint, it's a deal." Player: "I'll tell you what I know." Cena: "That's all I want." Player: "But she didn't ask for the background, just the plot." Cena: "She may have already had the background." Player: "I assumed so."

Cena signals Robert over, and asks if he would retrieve something from the ship's safe - a briefcase Cena had him put in there. Robert: "Will we be leaving soon?" Cena: "Probably." Robert: "How soon?" Cena: "I can't say, but make sure the ship is refueled and ready to go within a couple of hours, if need be." Robert heads for the ship, with Hunter, hitting the recall button on the commo unit, to let Steve know it's time to start wrapping things up.

Player: "Do you have cash? I assume that's what the briefcase is." Cena: "Yes, I have specie." Player: "Then I'll trust you to pay up." He recalculates the plot on the jump-point he plotted for Ming-Na. It's to grid point 0808 - one jump beyond Grant. There is nothing on the map there. Then he calculates a jump to Grant, which is a Red Zone. As 'background", he provides the frequency for the interdiction satellites around Grant, and the Imperial radio frequencies used in that system. He thinks the reason Ming-Na wanted to jump into 0808, instead of Grant, is "because if you jump into Grant from there, you might not be picked up. But, if you jump into Grant directly from Louzy, you'll probably be spotted". He figures Ming-Na just wanted to sneak into the Red Zone. He's never been to 0808 himself. Cena lets him figure whatever he wants. Player: "That's all I know." He plays solitaire again, ignoring Cena. Ghaer has stayed with Cena, and he watches the solitaire game. It's a wonderful game. The symmetry. It flows so nicely...

On the way to the ship, Robert tells Hunter Cena wants something brought from the ship, and Hunter figures something bad is happening, so he stops and gets a quadruple espresso Mindblower, and takes some KillAlc. He is sober now, but so very unhappy... There's a message from the engineer, saying he's on his way. The briefcase is picked up, and they return to the bar.

Robert gives the case to Cena, and sees the solitaire game. He's seen it played once before, and it looks really obscure. Robert: "What game is this?" Player: "Spanish Tower." Robert will have to look this up. Hunter: "One more card and you'll have a straight flush." The player rolls his eyes. Player <to Cena>: "You see? That's the kind of help I usually get." Cena carefully takes out $50,000 credits, and passes the money to the solitaire player, who counts it, says "thank you", and pockets the money, granting the group nonexistence.

Robert: "Did you get what we were after?" Cena: "Yes. I think we should be on our way." Hunter: "That's it? I took KillAlc for this??" Cena: "Who asked you to take KillAlc?" Robert: "So, I take it you're ready to go back to the ship?" Cena: "Yes." Hunter: "Is that all you've got in that case? $50,000?" Cena: "All I had in the case was money, yes."

Back at the ship, Cena puts Hunter to bed, offering him aspirin and water. Cena: "How well do you know Mr. Shelzie?" Hunter: "I don't know. Not too well. Why? Do we have to kill him? If so, I'm going to want more money, 'cause I'm sort fond of him." Cena: "Do you trust him at all?" Hunter: "I trust him enough." Cena: "Which means?" Hunter: "I trust him as long as he has motivation. What's in it for him? You and me, we're mercenaries. We're in it for the profit. He's former Navy, he's out here trying to make a profit, with his squeeze. I don't know what his motivation is. I trust him that yeah, he's not going to screw us over just for kicks, and if it's in his interest. I don't want the person who's going to fly in and save my ass is just doing it because of contractual obligations. And he still blames Ghaer for shanghaiing him, and I can't say I blame him. To be honest, I've kind of taken a shine to him. Don't tell him that! I don't want him to get the wrong impression. But my gut feeling is that he's a good guy." Cena: "That's all I needed to know." Took long enough to get it out of him. Cena gives Hunter the aspirin and water, and promises to bring some juice.

Cena goes out to the common area, where Robert, Ghaer, and Ariana are. Cena: "Okay, now the fun stuff starts." Robert: "Now the fun stuff starts. Okay, what's our destination?" Cena: "0808. Just down from Grant." Robert checks out the map. Robert: "That's null space. This is a jump-4 ship." Cena: "I know. From here." Robert: "Grant is a Red Zone." Cena: "I know that too. Do you want to know information you could conceivably be prosecuted for having? Or would you rather be able to say you didn't know?" Robert: "I'd rather have the information. And this is going to cost more than just transportation." Cena: "Well, it does involve a Red Zone." Robert: "That's right. I'm assuming you're going to this place <indicates 0808>. What's there?" Cena: "As far as I know, 0808 is actually null space. If there is something out there, I don't know what it is." Hunter <appearing in the doorway>: "So what you're saying is that we're going to die a slow, painful death? Not that I mind, I'd just like to know." Cena: "We're looking for some one." Robert: "Yeah, I know. An old megacorp general director." Cena: "Ming-Na Ling is incredibly old." Hunter: "And it's possible that she's just gone right around the bend." Robert: "And she's gone to a Red Zone?" Cena: "Maybe. Or to 0808 to meet a ship or something. The person who plotted the jump coordinates for her figured she was going to sneak into Grant the way the smugglers do, via 0808. If we do need to go to Grant, here are the codes for the interdiction satellites." She hands the codes to him. Robert: "I don't' want to know how you got this." Hunter: "Incredible sex. Trust me. <to Cena> Am I right, or am I right?" Cena: "No comment." Hunter <to Robert>: "See? When a woman says that, it means sex. <to Cena> If we have to cap Imperial troops, I want to know ahead of time. And that's extra." Cena: "I want to avoid that if at all possible." Robert: "Why waste a jump-4 ship on smuggling?" Hunter: "That would depend on what you were smuggling." Robert: "There are very few noncommercial ships that are jump-4 capable, and if they have to jump back out right away, they're screwed." Ghaer: "What if all the cargo space was filled with water? Could that get you some leeway?" Robert: "On this ship, not enough. Not even close." Much discussion follows as to where, and why, and from what direction you could get to and from Grant or 0808. It's possible to get closer by backtracking towards Whanga or further down, over into the Regina subsector, making the jump into 0808 just jump-2, which is much better.

Robert: "We can check for public record of ships that were bought or leased around the date Ming-Na Ling disappeared, and see how many of them are jump-3 or jump-4. Maybe she filed a flight plan out of system to a closer connection point with Grant." Good idea. The records are searched, and there are 1,112 ships that were bought, leased, or chartered within three days of the date. Robert: "Let's eliminate the big freighters." Cena: "Are there any ships that are jump-1 or jump-2 only? Odds are she wouldn't have taken one of those." This gets the numbers down to 43 ships that are jump-3 or 4 which have been sold or booked to do something out of Louzy planet within the time frame.

It's decision time. Either spend more time to research all the possibilities, or just go there. Hunter and Cena want to just go there. Ming-Na has too much of a lead already, and it's time to get off this Louzy port.