"In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments -- there are consequences."-- Robert G. Ingersoll


Once he's back at the Bonaventure and feeling better, Oakhtitl goes back to help WD with the engines. They should be ready to calibrate by this evening, so leaving tomorrow is possible. Oakhtitl may be a large carnivore, but he's also an engineer, and the Pikhan has had four hours sleep in the last 36, so he needs help; as long as the Pikhan doesn't run - then the pounce reflex may be impossible to hold back. WD: "I think you can help me put the engines back together, and maybe help tighten bolts." Geoff and Joe have mechanical, and they're both strong, so they can help tighten the bolts. WD has color-coded all the bolts, so the humans just have to follow the colors on the torque wrenches to get the tension set correctly. It's like being back in shop class, with everything labelled and perfectly layed out.

While the repairs are being done, Joe will set out to pick up supplies for the trip - foodstuff and medical supplies, mostly. He's been a bit concerned about Amanda and Max, and asks them (seperately) if they have brawling. Nope. Neither one does. (What does he expect? They were both Naval officers, from Rhylanor.) Amanda: "That's what I have you for. Besides, the best way to stay out of trouble is to not start it." She has the advantage of her brain not being addled by testosterone. And she's taken Thiel's advice and has gotten some cargo that will sell across the border (machine parts, replacements, power cells, agro parts, that sort of things), and food. Carlin and Oakhtitl suggest maybe taking on some extra cargo in the form of medical supplies, but that isn't effective cost per volume. The agro parts Amanda got as a bargain, from the Ministry of Culture. She asks Geoff and Joe to check out the parts, since they both have mechanical. And just because some one has to ask, the agro parts are, in fact, agro parts - and good quality. It failed milspec, but all that means is it's fine for commercial use, just not for the military. The power cells are also fine - they're gel cells, just add water. That only takes up two thirds of the cargo, leaving room for Thiel's cargo, and any cargo space the other party members may need.

While the cargo area isn't full, Nicolai takes advantage of the space to work out. Joe puts up a bag in the common area. There is a bit of concern about the lack of steward, especially when Ezbeki and then the Pikhan volunteer to cook, but Thiel's servant Tal, who has come ahead to prepare things, is used to performing whatever duties are necessary for his master, and can therefore cook. Considering Tal's plumpness, he must be able to cook reasonably well. He asks the engineer if he can make him a metal grill, as Darian traditional cooking is done on a grill. WD can do that, and Tal finds out what sort of food the Pikhan likes to eat, so he can make sure the larder contains the correct sort of food. WD can also use Tal's sketch to make a small hydroponics section in the hold.

Carlin lucks out and finds two Pikhan engineering vac suits for her (it's tough being that little) and WD. One of the suits is white with flashy blue trim, and a cartoon character on the front. Carlin takes the suit to MilTech and asks that they paint it for her. Clerk: "What color?" Carlin: "Black's always fashionable." She returns later to find that the cartoon character has been carefully removed, then replaced after the suit was painted black. Argh. This is not the vac suit of a child, in spite of the size. She has them remove the decal, but keeps it.

Oakhtitl is precariously low on personal funds and asks Amanda (as the ship's captain) "How much getting paid is?" Amanda: "You're an engineer, right?" Oakhtitl: "And a pilot, and a navigator." Amanda: "Oh, if you're a pilot, we'll log you in as a back-up pilot. That way you can draw the higher pay rate." Cool. And this trip will have no dearth of pilots, that's for sure. Oakhtitl returns to the common area. Tal: "I have some funds. How may I assist the honored warrior?" Oakhtitl: "I have need of a vac suit. Do you have money?" Tal: "What use is this 'vac suit'?" Oakhtitl: "In cases of the planets atmosphere being not good, or if the ship decompresses." Tal: "Ah. Yes, that is a necessity." Now that Tal understands, he suggests speaking to Thiel about it, but later. Tal: "The master is resting now, he will be here this evening. I do not want to disturb him, it is so rare that he sleeps well."

Tal asks to speak to all the crew, to inquire about their dietary requirements. Tal: "Do you have any religious restrictions or requirements?" Ezbeki: "My religion demands that I not eat anything with slime or tentacles, and I must have lobster at least once a day." Carlin: "Ezbeki!" Ezbeki: "Okay, okay. But the thing about tentacles is a must." Nicolai: "Right. He must have tentacles at least once a day." Argh. Joe: "I like to have fish of Fiveday if possible, but it's not enforced."

the party will purchase some of their own personal supplies as well. Geoff stocks up on beer. Cases and cases of beer. Oakhtitl: "This is a human ship, so there is rum, yes?" Max: "Excuse me?" Oakhtitl: "Human navy vessels have a ration of rum, yes?" Max: "This is not a Navy vessel." Carlin: "That was quite a while ago, Oakhtitl." Oakhtitl: "What do I know of changes in human history. Do you not have rum then?" Max: "Would you like rum?" Oakhtitl: "I do not know." Right. This is going to one of those trips. Ezbeki has brought fire-water on board, in case of problems with border guards or whatever.

Oakhtitl is helping the Pikhan calibrate the engines, but WD keeps nodding off. Oakhtitl tells him to get a shower and some rest, so WD gets into the Engineering shower and turns it on. The shower in Engineering is designed to act also as a decontamination shower, so the Pikhan is suddenly sprayed and buffeted about like a cork going over a waterfall. Oakhtitl reaches in and grabs WD, shakes him a bit, gets him blow-dried over one of the airvents, then wraps him up and puts him into his little sleeping bag. Oakhtitl then sets out to finish the calibration, which is easy, since everything is almost in perfect calibration already. He does find a small pile of what appears to be left over screws, bolts, and the like. He puts them into a small bag, not worrying about it; either the engines will work, or they won't, and if they do, then the 'extra' parts are not necessary. Oakhtitl checks things out in engineering, and sees that modifications have been made to the thrust regulation governor, and that sort of thing. WD has removed the smog control device, and the governors preventing the pilot from taking the engine past the red line. Hmm. Oakhtitl sends a ship's e-mail message to the pilots, informing them that "the governors have been removed by the chief engineer, so if you go past the red line, you will be doing permanent damage".

Thiel arrives that evening, in a black cloak with the hood up, and looking very mysterious. Geoff is concerned Thiel may be a creature of the night, (Regina Tattler: Darian Vampires Suck Ship's Crew Dry!) but his canines appear to be no more pointed than normal. Thiel goes to the bridge to confer with the captain and senior officer. Thiel: "We will rendezvous with the ore carrier tomorrow morning, which will take you as far as Gardevillis, where we will detach. You'll have to plot the best route from there." The simplest route is discussed, once Thiel tells everyone "our destination is Faisal in the Querion subsector." That area is claimed by the Zhodani, but the only foundation for the claim is a trade corridor that doesn't go near Faisal. The Darians, the Swordworlders, and the Zhodanis all claim the general area. Not to mention the raiders and pirates.

Nicolai: "Is there any reason we cannot leave the space port this evening?" Thiel: "Is there a reason you want to detach the umbillicus from the station? While in the docking bay the station is providing the power, and other services, so we do not have to deplete the ship's stores." Nicolai: "My thought is mission safety." Thiel: "That is true, there are others that seek the same goal." Nicolai: "We have been made aware that your mission is not approved of." Tal: Yes, the early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." Thiel: "If you would be so kind as to ask the captain if she would assemble the crew?" Nicolai goes to the captain, on the bridge, but does not step on to the bridge, and asks to speak with the captain. Amanda: "Yes?" Nicolai: "Mr. Thiel has asked if you would assemble the crew." Amanda calls the crew together in the common area. While Nicolai is off delivering the message to the captain, Oakhtitl requests an advance for the purchase of his vac suit. Thiel has no problem with that, and hands the money (mostly in Dakars) to Oakhtitl, who orders a basic vac suit, Aslan sized, via the computer.

The crew is assembled. Thiel: "My thanks to the captain, for calling you together. Mr. Volkov has some security concerns, and has suggested that we detach from the station now, rather than wait for our launch window. I felt that the entire group should hear his concerns before making that decision. Mr. Volkov?" Nicolai: "Yesterday while we were out acquiring things, it was brought to my attention that were others immediately interested in our mission, and in me. The director of Regina Security has taken an interest in the success, or rather, the failure of this mission." Geoff: "Why would the local security director care?" Nicolai: "Mr. Black is well aware of my...credentials." Geoff: "Your credentials?" Nicolai: "If I go on a mission, I expect it to succeed." [It doesn't make a lot of sense then for Black to have notified Nicolai, knowing what his reaction would be, now does it?] Nicolai: "I suggest standing off the station for two reasons. One, I believe it would give us it would throw them off guard." Joe: "Briefly." Geoff: "Why not just leave?" Carlin: "Because we have to rendezvous with a ship tomorrow morning." Geoff: "But they don't know that." Amanda: "It would be helpful, since we just reassembled the engines, to take the ship out and shake it down to find out if we need to fix anything before leaving port." Nicolai and Oakhtitl think this is a very good idea. Nicolai: "I suggest that during the shakedown, those of us not directly involved in it check out the cargo carefully. Very carefully." Carlin: "It was checked." Nicolai wants to check every single little piece of cargo, in case something is not what it appears to be. Amanda: "We don't lose anything by detaching now, we'll just need to get clearance. Max, contact the STA and see if we can get clearance for a shakedown, and a parking orbit." Max: "Will do." He heads for the bridge. Ezbeki: <to Nicolai> "Uh, excuse me? Is this a mission-related thing, or do you have some personal thing going on with you? I just want to make sure we know what to expect here." Nicolai: "My concern is that this mission could be in danger while we are on the Up Port, in Mr. Black's territory." Ezbeki: "Okay, so this Director of Regina Security is what? A bureaucrat? Or some kind of spymaster?" Carlin: "More the second than the first." Nicolai: "At least we know who one of the people on our scorecards is." Ezbeki: "So whatever we're going after must be pretty valuable?" Oakhtitl: "I believe in human terms, you could say 'ka-ching'" Ezbeki: "Works for me."

Max speaks with an STA rep, a female. She's very friendly, and kind of cute, and is very helpful. Oh, and her name is Susie. Susie: "I can push back this launching here, and give you a window." Max: "Thanks, that really helps." Susie: "So, are you free between now and your launch time? We could grab something to eat." Max: "Unfortunately I'll be pretty tied up until we lift, but I appreciate the offer." Susie: "So how long will you be gone? You could call me when you get back." Max: "Well, I may be off station for a couple of months." Susie: "I'll be here when you get back. Give me a call." Susie rings off, and Amanda leans over Max's shoulder. Amanda: "You know, it's a good thing I know you were just toying with her to get that launch window..." She may not have agreed to marry Max yet, but Amanda believes in keeping an eye on her interests.

Thiel approaches Carlin, and asks if he can chat with her in her professional capacity, assuming all her other preparations do not require her presence? Carlin takes Thiel into the room set up as medical. Thiel is somewhat concerned, as he's seeing a bit more blood in his waste than he's comfortable with." Carlin: "Any is not good. What happened, and how long ago?" Thiel gives Carlin a story about being mugged. You don't roll some one to do this kind of damage. You would have to have some one restrained, and spend several days torturing them. He hasn't had the opportunity to be seen by anyone other than a 'discreet' doctor. Good thing he has Carlin to take care of him. Carlin is not happy about the condition Thiel is in. Carlin: "Did this happen on Regina, or before you arrived here?" Thiel: "Does it matter?" Carlin: "It could." Thiel: "On Regina." Oh-oh. Thiel tells Carlin that he didn't see the people who worked on him, they were just shadows, and he had been hit in the head a couple of times before the torture, so he was a bit muzzy, so he doesn't remember voices. Hmm, head injuries, the information was not obtained (the Darian was hardened against physical torture), no drugs were used, and the Darian was released; probably not Black's work. If it was one of Black's people, then there's a vacancy at Regina Security, because the boss does not like sloppy work. Carlin will have to come up with a whole strategy of treatment, as this man is severely messed up. He doesn't want her to put him out completely, as he can't risk being drugged and revealing anything. This is a major project, will take some time, and will necessitate more tools than she has - the engineers can probably make what she needs.

Before the window opens to leave, Joe and Oakhtitl inspect the outside of the ship. The Pikhan perfectionist tightens up some things, but nothing odd is found. Nicolai gets all non-essential crew to help out in the cargo area to help inspect the cargo. Max asks what exactly Nicolai wants people to look for, and is eventually able to determine that Nicolai's main concern is a stowaway or an explosive device. Ezbeki complains that it's going to take weeks to check all the fuel cells alone. After some arguing about the possible use of a voltage meter, or other such equipment, Joe asks "Can't we just weigh one of them, then weigh the others and see if any are different?" After a lengthy stunned silence, all the more educated people agree that this is a great idea. The fuel cells seem to be fuel cells. WD has a portable FLIR (Foreward Looking Infra-Red) unit, and that's used to check for stowaways. None are found.

The shakedown part of the cruise goes The noticeable difference is the ship runs exactly in the normal range. Exactly.


One of the bulk carrier's officers comes on board the Bonaventure to welcome them aboard. They're not the only ship the carrier is transporting, although most of the others don't have passengers, just crew. The captain invites Amanda to dinner on board the carrier, and she of course, accepts. Officer: "Is there anything else we can do for you?" They're already hooked up to power and air, so not really. Its' about 45 minutes before jump. Officer: "The captain likes nice, boring trips, so we're not expecting anything out of the ordinary." No one in the party tells the man that they've never had a nice, boring trip; why shatter his illusions so soon? Officer: "Oh, and by the way, do you have a Geoff Thompson on board? Our radio operator has a message for Major Thompson." Geoff: "Yes....?" He's escorted towards the carrier bridge, then down a side corridor. Officer: "This is far enough." Geoff: "Okay." Officer: "I apologize for the ruse, but I needed to get you away from the rest of the crew. My employer has an interest in the chowh ouelwude, the artifact, and he's willing to pay for your assistance." Geoff: "Really? How much?" Officer: "$100,000 up front, and on receipt of the artifact, he will pay you an additional $100,000 credits. You find the terms acceptable?" Geoff isn't sure if he should punch the guy out, or find out who his boss is and punch him out. Geoff: "No. Not acceptable. I already have a job." Officer: "I know. How much do you want?" Geoff: "You don't seem to understand contractual obligation." Officer: "You're a mercenary, right? How much?" Geoff: "Don't call me that again. No means no." Officer: "How much do you want?" That does it!! Geoff kicks him in the knee, hard. The officer hits the ground, yelling and swearing, and Geoff heads back to the ship. Amanda comes out of her cabin, looking very nice. Max: "You look...wonderful." Geoff chooses that particular moment to storm back onto the ship. Geoff: "Excuse me, Captain, there's at least one person on the ship that tried to pay me to deliver our objective to his employer. I don't know that I'd trust the crew." Amanda: "Well, that's a bit awkward. We're minutes away from going into jump." She has to go to dinner any way, or it's going to be an insult. Geoff: "Would you like an escort?" Amanda: "I'm a big girl." She leaves for the bridge. Several minutes later, the ship jumps. It's not a bad jump, just an industrial one. Tal will serve dinner after the jump, grilling some sort of meat on a stick.

Once in jump, Nicolai checks out everyone's vac suit and/or combat armor to make sure they're in good repair, and that everyone has commo gear. Tal eventually calls everyone to dinner, to "share a simple sustenance". If this is simple sustenance, it's definitely time to start going to Darian restaurants. Tal: "Before we eat we must give thanks to our Creator...." Tal goes on and on, and on, for some time. It takes a glare from Geoff to keep Ezbeki waiting, but eventually dinner is consumed. Thiel takes a lot of prompting, and he eats mechanically. The Pikhan is eating with one hand while working the joystick on his robot, which is sort of disconcerting.

Amanda must be getting really bad service, because she's gone for several hours. Max is not worried. Not at all. Nope. But the rest of the crew eventually becomes really upset, and there's a great deal of arguing about exactly how long she's been gone, why she's been gone so long, why she didn't say before she left exactly when to expect her back (this is from Oakhtitl, who seems to think that's how things should be done), etc. Max doesn't want Amanda to think he's checking up on her because he doesn't trust her. Tal: "If I may make an observation? We have a saying where I come, they have a saying: never pet a flaming dog." Max: "Where do you come from?!" Thiel: "It loses something in the translation." One would hope so. He gives the original Darian, then tries to translate it again, although it doesn't really help. Oakhtitl: "I will have to find aVargr next time, and test this. <to Nicolai> You can pet it." Nicolai: "From a distance." Oakhtitl suggests they send out the engineer's robot to take a look around. Carlin: "Why would we send a robot?" Oakhtitl: "If we send a robot, and the captain is being held against her will, we can find out." Nicolai and Oakhtitl then start discussing what they'll need to do to take the ship by force if the captain doesn't come back from dinner. Geoff: "She may just be having a good dinner. They may try to take the ship, or they may try to subvert our crew, one by one. Who says they'll stop with me?" Oakhtitl: "Can I go into the corridors now?" Geoff: "Why?" Oakhtitl: "To see if they try to bribe me. Unless another member of our crew truly can be bribed." Geoff: "Ezbecki, I'll kill you if you take a bribe!" Ezbeki: "Hey, it's not a bribe unless you do what they want. but then I'm not the one they try to bribe. Everyone tries to bribe the wrong one. How much did they offer you, any way?" Geoff: "I don't know. I got angry after he got to $200,000." Ezbeki: "$200,000! Think of your portfolio! Think of mine!" Geoff: "What's your portfolio? Two six-packs and a blonde?" Carlin: "A picture of a blonde?" Ezbeki: "Oh thank you very much. You're beginning to sound like that Darian guy. You know what he told me earlier? 'Believe your beliefs, and doubt your doubts.' What the hell does that mean? I understand 'front toward enemy'." Geoff: "Well, I'm glad you got that one down."

Five hours after Amanda left, there's a banging on the hatch that Max is pacing in front of. A voice from outside yells "Open up! We have your captain!" Max hits the internal alarm, and people come running. Once back up is assembled, Max opens the door to find two crewmen carrying Amanda, accompanied by a ship's officer and a passenger. Amanda is out like a light, and is wearing only her slip. The passenger, who the officer refers to as Count Von Gemigen, announces "Your captain had a little too much to drink. She was demonstrating a dance from a certain planet on the Captain's table..." They look rather drunk, although not as looped as Amanda obviously is. Amanda's dress is in the officer's pocket; Geoff takes the dress, Joe takes Amanda, but the little party wants to come in. They're prevented from entering, but want to come in. Count: "We have time for another drink!" Max: "I'm sure you do sir, wherever you started this party." Count: "Well! They're certainly not friendly! Come on, Teddy." Officer: "Yes, your Excellency." They stagger off, Nicolai observing until they leave the area. Joe carries Amanda to her room, and Carlin gives her a shot of B12, a lot of fluids, checks her over, and then leaves Max to tuck her in.

Nicolai and Oakhtitl decide that a guard should be placed by the main hatch that connects into the carrier. Buttoned up, and on guard. The two of them will take watches, as can Geoff and Ezbeki, and Joe.

Carlin sets Thiel up with an IV for nourishment, and wants him to get some rest before she performs surgery, but he won't take anything that will render him unconscious. He does agree to take pain meds, so he might sleep. Thiel: "It's not just the pain that keeps me awake." He doesn't add "it's the nightmares", but Carlin can fill that in for herself. Carlin will get rest before operating as well, plus she needs to study, and work with Joe (who's a medic). Joe is given some material to study, so he doesn't go into this unprepared.

Nicolai: "Geoff?" Geoff: "Yeah?" Nicolai: "We're going to set up a guard on the hatch." Ezbeki: "You want the captain, you just let me know. I can sneak in, take care of him, and no one will ever know." The offer is not accepted; yet. During a break, Oakhtitl has Nicolai check out the rather ornate combat armor. Yes, it is in fact fully functional armor, just really rococo and heavily decorated. Oakhtitl takes the main chest decoration off and hangs it on his wall. Much better.

103 to 109-1123.

Amanda is hung over, but unharmed in the morning. She did learn she should have avoided the champagne, but it was really good! Geoff and the others ask her if she remembered doing the table dance, wearing her just her slip, etc. She doesn't remember that. Carlin's blood draw showed no drugs, but a blood alcohol of 200. Egad! Amanda eventually remembers drinking little glasses of blue liquid that they set on fire. (That would be Sambuca.) Amanda was apparently trying to be clever, and hoped that the others would get drunk. Didn't work. The good news is that the Bonaventure has been ostracized by the other ships for being anti-social and unreasonably hard to bribe.

WD is able to make the tools that Carlin needs for her surgery, and he has a fibre-optic viewer already, which he can adapt for Carlin's needs. Joe will assist Carlin with her surgery. It should only take a few hours, if all goes well. Thiel is in such bad shape, Carlin would never had let him come with them had she known. Before the surgery, Carlin gets a chance to talk to Thiel, and he starts to confide in her. His uncle was in charge of protecting the Chalar Alodeth (communicator to the spirits, or talker to the dead, or something like that), and when the uncle became ill with cancer, he passed on his responsibility to Thiel. Thiel: "The Darian Confederation was once very large, and as the Confederation shrank, items of importance were hidden or buried until the time was right. Now approaches the Fifth Millenium, so the time draws nigh." Naturally.

The Pikhan is working on the jump drives, as they're not in use. Everything is going well until WD hears an odd sort of skittering, sucking noise coming from out of the jump drives. WD goes to Geoff to tell him, and Geoff figures they should just seal off engineering and pump the air out of it. When they go back to engineering, something that looks like a cross between a heavily pomaded rat and a small octopus comes flying out at Geoff's face. It has a rubbery head, and it's slimy. Geoff tries to rip it off his face, with WD's help, while they both yell for help. Geoff is trying to protect his throat, and when he drops to his knees and bangs his head on the floor he's able to get a breath. Oakhtitl and Nicolai charge into the engine room just in time to see the Pikhan attacking Geoff with a hammer. WD stops, and goes digging through his tool chest for a pair of pliers. Nicolai has his knife out, holds Geoff's head still, or tries to. Oakhtitl grabs Geoff, picks him up, and puts the creature up to the heat exchanger. Fortunately, when the creature bursts into flames (prompting Oakhtitl to drop Geoff) and sets Geoff on fire (no one pets him), WD is already charging that direction with a fire extinguisher, so he puts Geoff out.

Nicolai and Oakhtitl figure they should evacuate the air from Engineering, so they get Geoff out, and Oakhtitl fetches the oblivious Ezbeki from the far side of the area where he was listening to his head-banging music, and they all leave. Carlin has finished the grueling seven hours of surgery, and hears the fire alarm go off in Engineering. Now what? Joe can finish the post-op stuff. Carlin goes outside to see what the emergency is. The light on the bridge consol has also gone on, so Max comes outside at about the same time as Carlin. Geoff has been covered with burn foam and is sitting in the common area sucking a beer through a straw. Max looks at this and Geoff starts to tell him what happened, as do the others, although they're arguing over whether they should use vacuum or radiation. The door to the bridge is open, and the hung over Amanda tells them to be quiet! Max tells her he'll take care of it, and shuts the door. Max gets Tal. Max: "Tal, those creatures that you brought in the tank for food, are they all accounted for?" Tal: "With the members of this crew, I didn't think that was necessary." Max describes the creature, and yes, that's what they had for dinner last night. Very tasty. And there was only one left, (oh good) and it was pregnant (oh shit). It lays around 1,000 pea-sized eggs. They won't hatch for a week, but they may be very hard to find, being so small. A discussion ensues, but eventually it's decided to use radiation. Tritium gas floods the engine room with an eerie green mist. A very radioactive green mist. After the appropriate amount of time, the area is cleared out and vented, and then very carefully inspected. All the eggs are found - easy when they've absorbed that much radiation, and the leak on the tank is repaired (that's where the majority of the eggs were laid).

Nothing untoward happens on the rest of the jump. Thiel recovers enough to brief the party on what exactly they're supposed to do. They're looking for the Chalar Alodeth. Geoff: "Could you explain?" Thiel: "It's sort of a small pillar, green and blue and gold and white." He has a carrying case for it, with a foam cut-out. And there is a problem as far as actually acquiring the object. Thiel: "You can look upon it's reflection with a mirror, but a non-believer or some one who has not undergone the ritual of purity may not look upon it or touch it directly, lest bad things happen to them." And no non-believers may undergo the ritual of purity, sorry. Thiel has brought prismatic goggles with him, just for that eventuality, as he thinks it's more than just myth, and may be based on some sort of security system. Geoff wants to know what happens if Thiel doesn't survive the mission, and the group is left with the Chalar Alodeth. Thiel: "It must be taken to Mire in the Darian Confederation, and given to a man named Jella." Geoff: "And how do we contact him?" Thiel gives them information on how to make contact. When they get to Faisal, they need to find a mountain. Thiel: "The mountain is five degrees to the north of the starport, and looks like it has a bite taken out of it. Just below the bite, is the Tree of the Devil." Oakhtitl: "Why is it called that?" Thiel: "I'm told that when you see it, the meaning is obvious. It is a great, ancient tree, twice the size of the length of this ship. The entrance to the cave is at the base of the tree." Thiel was sent the key (a multi-colored, almost circuitboard like thing) by the last monk who checked the site, and who reported that the site was undisturbed.

Now about this 'ritual of purity thing'... Geoff: "What are the tenets of your faith?" Thiel: "Well, you're a heretic, and it would be a sin to tell you the central tenets of our faith." It's more of a cult than a religion, and they don't want any new converts, thank you. Thiel is unsure how much of the ritual of purification is lore, and how much is actually real concerns regarding some sort of traps or security; the secular part of him believes a lot of the ritual isn't really necessary. Even Thiel has brought the special gloves and goggles to protect himself. Geoff gets really frustrated over Thiel not being willing to give more specific information about the ritual, etc., since if something can help the party achieve the objective without being killed, they should know. And why does it have to be moved now? Thiel: "The legends say that when the artifact is taken to a specific place at a specific time, it will contact the Ancients." It may be some kind of flipping huge radio, or even just a recording, but it could provide valuable data. Carlin: "Oh great, the last time I had to be some place at a specific time, a flipping jump gate opened. I really hope it's not another one of those damn artichokes*." [*Note: A euphemism for artifact.] Thiel knows many stories about caches of Darian artifacts, and the knowledge obtained from the items found there. He only cares about the Chalar Alodeth, so the other items are up for grabs. Assuming of course it's still there, and that no one else knows about it. Carlin: "Unless you made the carrying case yourself, whoever did make it knows about it." Thiel: "They will know that is is 2' long and about 8" in diameter, but that's about all." Thiel tries to tell the group more, but he's obviously trying to resolve some internal conflict. Carlin: "I think he should get some rest." Thiel: "No, he's [Geoff] right. The important thing is the mission. A few minor sins can be forgiven in the pursuit of the greater good. If this all turns out to be nothing at all, then nothing is lost. If it is significant enough, then I will do the appropriate penance." Thiel motions to Tal who is unhappy, but takes out a small book from inside his robes. Thiel hands the book to Geoff. Thiel: "These are the passages that mention the artifact in here." There are translation disks on the ship's computer; such a stroke of luck. Most of the book is filled with more of those damn Darian bits of wisdom like the flaming dog thing. Argh.

Faisal has a standard atmosphere, kind of thin, kind of stinky, TL 3 now, but it used to be industrial. The planet is controlled by warlords, and with law level 6 only they get weapons. There are higher levels of tech, but among the warlords and their minions. There are at least one, possibly two system defense boats. They belong to Thanber, a world nearby that was having problems with pirates using Faisal as a staging area. Thanber had enough of that, but quick, so they set up the ships. The Bonaventure shouldn't have any trouble with the defense boats, as they will be landing in the starport, which is where everyone has to land to trade with the two main warlords. It would be easier to just go directly to the mountain, unless you take the being blown up bit into consideration (go outside of the designated area on Faisal or Dekalb and they will assume the ship is involved in piracy). They'll need to make final plans once they get to Faisal and check things out.

109 to 110 -1123.

The ship comes out of jump at Frenzy to refuel and jump out again. One of the other ships being carried drops off in Frenzy, another ship remains. But they're not very far along the X-Boat route, so there's still a ways to go, and Gardevilis should be the best stopping point. The plan is to fuel up at Gardevilis, after getting rid of some trade goods and making room for more fuel. Once the jump is made into Faisal, they should have enough fuel on board to jump in and jump out without having to refuel.

There is minimal fighting on Frenzy, and a large military equipment show going on. Oakhtitl only cares about militaria if it's over a thousand years old, which Carlin thinks is short-sighted. Nicolai is interested in the military gear, but only for future reference.

110 to 117 - 1123.

Nothing exciting happens on the trip to Gardevilis, as the ship has been designated as full of party-poopers. Thiel, on the other hand, is looking much better under Carlin's tender ministrations. He has color in his cheeks, eats everything that isn't nailed down, and his attitude about the mission has improved. Carlin is able to give him Regen™ at this point.

Geoff scans in the relevant pages of the little book, to use the translation software and so everyone can have access to it. Not that reading it helps, since it's full of confusing parables and stories about visions, etc. The writings have been translated back and forth too much, and it's the bad translation that sounds good that has mostly survived.

117 - 1123.

Arrival on Gardevilis - B class starport, law level of 8. The Bonaventure detaches, as does the other ship (Count VonGemegen's). The ship will dock with the Up Port to refuel, etc. The Count's ship is greeted by many well-wishers, with a small band and lots of cheek kissing. Amanda figures they'll be on station for 48 hours, to give everyone time to get off the ship, maybe onto the planet proper, and get some space and sun. There will always be a guard on board the ship, just to be sure.

Joe seeks out the local cathedral, being a good Catholic boy. On board the ship, much discussion ensues over the planned route, but Thiel tells the crew that water will be availble for fuel on Zeta-2. He gives the captain the coordinates of the on-planet location. They will emit a pulse-code once in the planet's atmosphere, and that will lead them to it. Carlin: "That would be fine as long as you're the only one who knows the code." Thiel: "Zeta-2 is a Red Zone because it used to be a military test facility, but you didn't hear it from me." Nicolai: "Hear what?" Carlin: "Not a thing." Oakhtitl was also a Scout, so Thiel can give him a lot of information on the area and the little tricks he knows. Thiel: "We will have to be a bit careful, as the ordinance never gets completely used up. Pity we don't have a missile rack; I know where we could get some if they're still there." They could add a rack, but it would cost over $700,000 credits. Ouch. They can check the Ship's Chandlers for a used one, but the only person on board with gunnery is Ezbeki, and Amanda tells Max she doesn't "feel comfortable buying a used missile rack, based on the advice of a trained monkey, to fire used missiles that might be there." Max: "I can't argue with that." They decide to pick up the missiles if they're there, then they can sell them later. A missile rack can be added after this job, when they could have Darian tech to use as trade goods.

Oakhtitl draws some pay and goes to Fur Preferred, to get his fur trimmed so that it all matches the short fur he had singed off. He gets a clip job, shampoo, claws, the whole thing. Then he goes to find a sun-lit park to bask. Aahh. Nicolai goes shopping for coffee and tea. All is calm and peaceful. Yeah, right.